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8 Popular Lunar New Year traditions in Taiwan

A short guide to how Taiwanese families will be marking Lunar New Year

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8 Popular Lunar New Year traditions in Taiwan

(Wikimedia Commons photo)

Lunar New Year is nearly upon us and that means that people from across Taiwan will be celebrating the imminent arrival of the Year of the Tiger.

If you are new to Taiwan, you might be wondering how Taiwanese people celebrate the Lunar New Year festival and what traditions they will be following.

So, here is a lowdown on eight of the most significant Lunar New Year traditions in Taiwan:

  1. Spring Cleaning

Taiwanese households will embark on a spring-cleaning blitz ahead of the Lunar New Year festivities.

This is not just to get the house in order for returning family members and friends who might visit. It has a very important symbolic meaning as well.

By cleaning up dust and dirt, it is believed that you are getting rid of any bad luck that your household has accumulated during the previous year. Equally, getting rid of old and unused items is believed to make room for more good luck to come into the home.

But cleaning must be completed before the Lunar New Year holiday begins. Cleaning during the holiday is considered bad luck because you could be sweeping the good luck that has arrived away.

  1. Firecrackers

People across the country will be letting off firecrackers to scare away evil spirits. Traditionally, this was done to get rid of Nian, a mythical beast that was believed to once stalk a village.

Today, the firecrackers are aimed at malignant spirits more generally, as well as adding to the general party atmosphere that will be felt in communities throughout the country.

  1. Couplets

You might have seen the red scrolls with Mandarin calligraphy that frame the doorways of homes and businesses all over Taiwan.

These are handwritten (sometimes) or printed (more often) messages or poems that are believed to bring good luck or good fortune to the home.

Alongside the cleaning rituals, it is also traditional to replace these couplets with new ones. At this time of year, shops are full of different couplets and if you visit a traditional market, you might well find a calligrapher hand-writing new couplets to order.

  1. New Red Clothes

In keeping with the other traditions that are intended to indicate a fresh start and bring good luck for the year ahead, a lot of Taiwanese people will choose to wear brand new clothes during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Often, although not always, these clothes will be red and this color is particularly popular with kids during this period.

But red-clad adults are far from a rare sight as well. But if red is not your color, a popular option is red underwear or socks underneath more modest colored clothes on top.

  1. Red Envelopes

There is no tradition of giving material gifts during the Lunar New Year in Taiwan. Instead, the tradition is to give red envelopes containing money.

The red color is to symbolize good luck and money in such envelopes always has to be crisp and clean, ideally fresh from an ATM, which can result in some long queues to withdraw money at this time of year.

Red envelopes are usually given to children by parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. It is also common to give such envelopes to parents and grandparents as a sign of respect and to thank them for the efforts and sacrifice they have gone through to raise you.

  1. Family

Lunar New Year revolves around family. It is at the center of many traditions.

At this time of year, people will travel across the country, and from overseas, if possible with current COVID-19 restrictions, to return to the family home for at least two or three days.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will usually be spent with the husband’s family, while it is common for the second day of New Year to be spent with the wife’s family.

  1. Food

Food plays a central role in the celebrations too.

The big meal of the holiday period will usually take place on New Year's Eve. This will happen in the evening with the whole extended family present and a huge quantity of food on offer.

Dishes will vary but there are some symbolic dishes which most families will look to have, and at the center of most tables will be a hot pot.

While it is traditional for this meal to be held at home, a growing number of families are choosing to visit a restaurant for this most special of occasions.

  1. Mahjong

Once the food has been consumed, families will settle down to an evening of fun and entertainment. And usually, this involves a long session of mahjong.

Mahjong is massively popular in Taiwan and New Year is the one time when all the family gets the chance to play together. Small bets will usually be wagered and it’s not uncommon for beer and whisky to be drunk at the same time.

Kids will often join in, but as they drift off to bed, the adults will continue to play, often into the wee hours.

If you are welcomed into a Taiwanese home over Lunar New Year, it is always a good idea to brush up on your mahjong skills before you go.