Tesagan Gin Je – Vegetarian Festival

This month I plan to spend a lot of time exploring the vegetarian festival, Tesagan Gin Je, that many people of Chinese heritage celebrate (along with plenty of enthusiastic, non-Chinese food lovers, vegetarian or otherwise) annually during the first nine days of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Tesagan Gin Je – Vegetarian FestivalCelebrations around the country can vary wildly, with the common thread being abstinence from meat or animal products (butter, milk, etc.), alcohol, tobacco, “adult encounters”, and some folks will even go as far as not to use cooking utensils that have been used with meat in the past and wearing only white during the festival. The white, modest clothing extends also to anyone who wants to participate in temple events. If you don’t have any white clothes it is often possible to find simple white gowns around any Chinese temples, but you shouldn’t count on that if you don’t have to.

Phuket’s celebratory fervor is probably the most feverish anywhere in the country, with the ceremonial mayhem culminating in the Mah Song parade which will make its way through Thalang town on the evening of Sunday, October 13th. This parade alone almost warrants a trip to the island even if you have no interest in the beach, it is quite possibly the most shocking procession in all of Thailand, even more so than my beloved Phi Ta Khon. Devotees will drive anything from industrial wrenches to swords and pistols through their cheeks and other parts of their bodies, but the face bears the brunt.

The tradition of this wild celebration (not the holiday itself which is of Chinese origins, but the ceremonies that are oh so specific to Phuket) stems, according to legend, from an outbreak of disease some 150 years ago. Many Chinese immigrants had come to Phuket to work in the tin mines, and the celebrations for the festival had gotten so big that a Chinese theatre troop was brought in to entertain them. When the disease broke out many people began to fall ill, and a member of the troop realized that they had neglected to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods at the beginning of the ninth lunar month, and to adhere to the observances associated with it.

After realizing this grievous misstep they took immediate reparatory action and got down to some serious observances and, miraculously, everyone got better. Since then the Chinese people of Phuket have celebrated, all but literally, as if their lives depended on it. Have a look and see for yourself……

In Bangkok the best place to get a taste of the holiday is on or around Yaowarat Road in China Town, which isn’t too far from Wat Prha Kaew or the Khaosan area. But if you are anywhere else in the city you can also keep your eyes peeled for yellow flags on food stalls and restaurants which will indicate that they are serving up vegetarian friendly fare. And most shopping malls around the city will have some sort of observance as well, in case you prefer to take it indoors.

Contact us if you are interested in taking part in any temple ceremonies this month, or just checking out some amazing Chinese food and celebrations!

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