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Greet the New Year with a meaningful New Year’s Eve

Greet the New Year with a meaningful New Year’s Eve

As 2014 draws to a close, county and city governments across Taiwan are readying celebrations to see the old year out and usher the new one in. From north to south, programs set up by various governments look distressingly similar, almost all of them centering on performances by popular pop singers or groups with rare instances where there are more localized aspects on offer. As a result, New Year's Eve celebrations everywhere have become little more than urban marketing activities, and they also pose serious challenges in finding suitable artists to provide the evening’s entertainment in some cases
Sometime in the not-too-distant past it became de rigueur in communities across the island to mark the end of the calendar year by gathering in large outdoor venues for musical performances and entertainment capped off by a countdown to the new year, then another short burst of merriment before everyone makes their way home and into the new year.

Unfortunately, most planning and execution of such local programs is now done by marketing and event specialists operating with formulas that call for a first-tier performer or group to headline the evening’s entertainment, then maybe a few second-string singers to pad out the evening. And with some artists booked in more than one place, a few stars find themselves speeding willy-nilly between different cities to present nearly identical performances in several venues. It’s a distasteful situation for performers and audiences alike, and it all goes back to a lack of imagination and cultural awareness on the part of local governments.

Fireworks are also an integral part of New Year's Eve activities, with the biggest show staged in Taipei atop Taipei 101. Many of these are spectacular displays involving substantial expenditures of time and money, and in the end it all literally goes up in smoke. Doing the same thing year after year adds up to a tremendous waste of public funds and energy.

Last year a group of youths in Fengtien Township, about a half-hour drive south of Hualien, saw off the old year in a ceremony that was widely reported in the media and praised by observers. They invited families to dine together New Year’s Eve. Each group provided its own food, and many brought more than they needed and shared it with those who did not have enough, or invited others to enjoy various dishes. One memorable memory during the evening was an elderly woman who looked around and mused, "It has been a long time since so many people got together for a big meal."

After eating their fill, some celebrants moved to an area where a light-hearted movie was screened, while others gathered in front of a stage where local performers told stories and sang and danced. Then as midnight approached, they too counted down the last seconds of the year. The next morning some hardy souls biked to the coast to greet the year’s first dawn, offering up wishes and promises for the coming year. Then they returned to the community school for a flag-raising ceremony.

This year the youths decided to repeat the activity but in more meaningful ways, looking for areas where which the events could be improved and recalling their ties to the people and land around them. Fengtien is a Hakka village, and in the past people held a ‘Hsieh Ping-an’ or thanksgiving festival to show gratitude to the gods for a bountiful autumn harvest and pray for peace and contentment in the future.

Sometime after noon, the villagers would gather in the village temple for a round of festive ceremonies, then in the evening each family prepared a couple of dishes and invited neighbors, friends and family to partake in order to show their thanks for help and support over the past year. After eating their fill and sharing a bit of wine, they returned to the temple to watch a play on the theme of thanksgiving and the end of winter and finish off a busy day.

The activity was supported by the Hakka Commission in the past, but over the years the ceremonies became ritualistic and less meaningful to locals. They wanted more innovation and relevance, with events tied to the season and local village culture that would give more meaning to New Year's Eve.

They approached community elders to teach them how to make bamboo cannons to be fired off in lieu of fireworks. They went into the mountains to find stands of old bamboo and brought back thick stalks to the village, where elders showed them how to set up and fire the cannons. They held the cannon firing for their own benefit, but also invited travelers from Taiwan and abroad staying in nearby hostels and B&Bs to share in the festivities and experience local customs.

The current raft of lavish New Year's Eve activities have little bearing on local culture and are generally empty variety shows centered on performances and fireworks. Less and less variation between celebrations in different cities and towns can be found each year. While many complain that these events squander public funds, officials counter defensively that extravaganzas provide opportunities for business in many places; but for most people the evenings are little more than what can be seen on television almost any weekend.

In a few places the big New Year’s Eve shows have become an entrenched tradition that is not likely to change soon. In Taipei, for example, Taipei 101 provides an ideal venue for spectacular fireworks that thrill huge crowds in open areas of Xinyi District as well as on mountainsides around the Taipei Basin. The display usually also makes its way onto global tracking of New Year countdowns in places like Tokyo, Sydney Harbor Bridge, London and New York’s Times Square.

Still, it is encouraging to see developments like the youth of Fengtien who have taken it on their own to put together a New Year's Eve with more suitable and meaningful content. It is a model that other places would do well to study. New Year's Eve does not have to cost a lot, and there are plenty of carnivals and shows throughout the year. All in all, it is better to find a place for an evening with friends and family, and greet the New Year together with hope and joy.

Updated : 2022-01-16 18:12 GMT+08:00