Through the Local Lens: Lunar New Year

Posted by FRNCi | | Chinese New Year in Taiwan

For all the buzz and rumours you’ve heard of the Chinese New Year, the best way to comprehend or even imagine what it is like if you haven’t yet been through one yourself is probably to consider it the Chinese version of a Christmas period of time. Long lasting tales and practices of religious routines, the never-ending holiday time to hang around with families, and various ventures that people go on using an extended period of free time. All these underlying principles of a yearly festive season could sound rather familiar, so how is this Chinese festive celebration really different from the usual Western styled Christmas?

Christmas vs. Lunar New Year, what’s the buzz about?

To begin with, it is taken rather seriously to spread “the spirit of being new” all over the places, so everything will start with a thorough cleaning of all spaces and areas before the New Year is there. The climax of this cleaning spree will come down to the replacement of the so called “chunlian”(春聯) known as red couplets or literally the “spring lines.” Which basically are red banners that are posted at all entrances with auspicious words or sayings written on it. The New Year’s red couplets will be posted on three sides at the main entrance with felicitous proses artistically calligraphed on them. Starting few weeks before the New Year, people would visit local temples and line up sometimes for hours, just to get their share of free red couplets written by a famous calligraphy masters.

Photo credit: myhsu via Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

Just one more pair of new jeans, or two

Once cleanings are all done and the couplets are posted at the doors, the atmosphere of New Year will be close. Some people may go on last rounds of shopping to make sure that there will be more than enough food for the entire New Year’s period; others will continue the festive spirit and acquire more “new items” to showcase their enthusiasm once the New Year is there. The perfect place to do so will be the new year’s markets, which will start emerging a couple of weeks before the holidays. Just about every large city will have its own market, where “new year supplies” are concentrated, and people can go for a one-off shopping for the new year goods ranging from food, clothing, to anything that signifies or resembles good fortune. Markets such as the one on Dihuajie(迪化街) in Taipei will be flooded with locals craving for various snacks, such as …………… mostly available only during the holiday period. With New Year’s market spread all over the island, don’t miss out the one opportunity to visit one and indulge yourself in the taste of holiday delicacies.

The feast of thousand flavours

In fact, if you ask a Taiwanese what is the inseparable part of the New Year’s celebrations, the answer will probably be: food. As the old saying goes min yi shi wei tian(民以食為天), meaning food is the essence of everyday living, most of the New Year’s festivities revolve around food with a whole range of flavors and options to explore. On the very eve of the lunar New Year, a family gathering with abundance of food will be the most eagerly expected moment by the younger generation. With all family members gathered around the table enjoying their meal, either home cooked or delivered, the atmosphere of rejoice and happiness is what people are looking forward to every year. What’s interesting, during recent years the ubiquitous convenience stores in Taiwan became a game changer in the New Year’s celebration traditions offering public a variety of special dinner deliveries. And so, just as home cooked meal, ordering dinners at convenience stores become just as popular.

Photo credit: Ray Yu via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The sounds and colours of New Year

And just in case if you are wondering what happens after the dinner, no, there will be no Chinese Santa Clause. But from the eve until a few days into the New Year, on encounters youngsters are expected to congratulate senior generations with auspicious sayings, and in exchange they will receive “red envelops,” paper bags with cash inside. I mean, who would not want to receive an envelope full of money? Enjoy your hongbao(紅包), just remember that holidays are not about the gifts only. And just then, as soon as the formalities of dining and “exchanging of good wills” are done, family members that are usually spread out all around the island will start to spend their time together playing all sorts of games, amongst which, of course, are card games and mahjong(麻將).

Other than the red colour, another abundant resemblance of good fortune would be the sound of firecrackers. Just before the turn of New Year, firecrackers are set off everywhere to dispel the evil spirits. But once the new year is in, any operation opening for the first time in the new year will have to be announced and celebrated with the setting off of firecrackers, which, depending on not only how much holiday time has been agreed upon but also the decision of an “auspicious moment” to commence work, could well spread through into the second week of the new year.

Photo credit: jmtimages via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

On a more general note, Chinese New Year is a time when people greet each other with blessings and prosperous perspectives. The scheduling order of encounters in the New Year follows certain priority order, on top of which unsurprisingly for Chinese starts with the traditional goddess and ancestors. So needless to say a visit to a trusted temple naturally comes on the first day of New Year, which would then be followed in several days’ time by calling on the extended families on the fathers’ side, the mothers’ side, and then perhaps re-unions of mates from different school time.

Regardless of what traditions the families are following, Lunar New Year will always be a holiday that brings people together. What could be more important than spending time with those who matter to us? Probably not many things could qualify. So what are you still doing here in front of your laptop or smartphone? Put the gadgets away for a day and simply enjoy your time!

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