KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Lunar New Year is nearly here and Taiwan’s success in managing the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic means that celebrations will largely be continuing as normal.
This year sees the arrival of the Year of the Ox, the second animal in the zodiac cycle. It is a special celebration for anyone born in the Year of the Ox, but a big celebration for all Taiwanese, especially after the year we have had.
So, how will Taiwanese be marking Lunar New Year this year? What traditions will they be following and what celebrations will they be enjoying?
Here is a run-down of the most popular Lunar New Year traditions:
1. Spring cleaning
Ahead of every Lunar New Year, Taiwanese households will have a spring clean. Windows will be wiped down, surfaces dusted, and old junk cleared away.
The idea is that by getting rid of junk and clutter now, you are making room for good luck in the coming year. By sweeping away the dust, you are clearing away any bad luck that might have accumulated over the previous year.
Expect some particularly thorough cleaning this year.
2. New red couplets
As part of the cleaning process, you will see the old red couplets that have been stuck around doors for the year being taken down. They will be replaced by new ones to mark the start of the lunar year.
These scrolls are printed or hand-drawn with spiritual messages or poems that bring good luck or good fortune to those living in a property.
3. Family get-togethers
At Lunar New Year, it is traditional for families to gather and celebrate. Most people will return to their parents' or grandparents' home for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while many will then have to go and visit their in-laws (the spouse’s family) on the second day of the New Year holiday.
It is this tradition that sees the High Speed Rail trains booked solid around the Lunar New Year holiday. If you are driving around during the holiday, you can expect the motorways to be bumper-to-bumper as everyone tries to get back to their family home.
4. Red envelopes
The one tradition most people are aware of is the giving of red envelopes. Presents are not the done thing at all but envelopes in the lucky color of red containing fresh, new banknotes are.
Children will receive red envelopes from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Meanwhile, older children are expected to give red envelopes to elderly relatives as a sign of respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they have made to bring them up.
The amount of money they contain is important too. Economic circumstances affect this of course but giving too little or too much can result in offense being taken while certain amounts are considered to bring more good fortune than others.
For example, any sum of money containing a number "4" is out because of the associations this number has with death.
Firecrackers are omnipresent throughout most festivals in Taiwan and Lunar New Year is no exception.
Tradition dictates that firecrackers at Lunar New Year will drive away the mythical beast "Nian." Today they symbolize the driving away of all bad luck and evil spirits and entering the new year with a clean slate.
Don’t expect a quiet night on Lunar New Year’s Eve in Taiwan. There will firecrackers going off until dawn across the country.
6. Family feast
On New Year’s Eve, when everyone has made it back to the family home, there is a traditional feast. This huge meal will usually be prepared by the matriarch and can consist of dozens of dishes.
Some of these will be family favorites while others are determined by tradition or for what they symbolize. We will delve more into the details of what Taiwanese families like to eat over Lunar New Year in a future article, but for now, let’s just say that no one goes to bed hungry on Lunar New Year’s Eve.
Lunar New Year is the time for mahjong, the tile-based game that was developed during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in China.
It has become a popular New Year’s tradition in Taiwan too and after their big meal, many families will set up the mahjong table, crack open a Taiwan Beer or a decent bottle of whisky, and while away the evening with a little gambling and usually a lot of laughter.
8. New red clothes
Symbolizing the fresh start that comes at New Year, many Taiwanese like to see in the new year with brand new clothes.
Children will often be seen in bright red attire at this time of year, with red being the color of good luck. Adults tend to be a little more conservative in their color choices but many will be sporting brand new red underwear or socks, even if you can’t always see it.
9. Don’t break things
Most people will try to avoid breaking things at the best of times, but this is especially important in Taiwan over Lunar New Year.
A breakage over the holiday is said to portend losses, bad luck, or a family rift in the coming year. Something most families definitely want to avoid.
If something does accidentally get broken, you will hear the culprit quickly saying "suisui ping'an (歲歲平安)" which is supposed to negate the bad fortune you may have caused.
10. Avoid negative words, sharp objects
There is a belief in some Taiwanese households that using sharp objects such as knives and scissors is bad luck over the Lunar New Year holiday. It is thought that they can cut down on your good luck or good fortune.
Some people also try to avoid using any negative words over the course of this holiday too, as these are also seen as causing bad luck. As a result, if your Mandarin is up to scratch, you can often hear some hilarious verbal gymnastics as people try to say what they mean using euphemisms and work-arounds rather than utter a simple word that has negative connotations.