The Chinese New Year is the biggest and longest holiday for the Chinese/Taiwanese or anyone else celebrating the Lunar New Year! The traditions and rituals are varied according to family and location but all celebration stems from traditional legends and customs to honor deities and ancestors. This legend tells of a beast, Nian, who would come on the first day of every year to eat livestock and children. To protect themselves, the villagers would place food in front of their homes for Nian to eat, rather than their livestock and crops. A god spoke to one villager, telling him to place red paper on his house and light firecrackers. In doing so, the villagers discovered that Nian was afraid of the color red. So everyone began to hang red banners and lanterns in their homes and light firecrackers to drive Nian away. This tradition still stands today as a part of new year festivities.
There are 15 days of New Year festivities, each with a different purpose or traditions. Some families may celebrate all 15, and others just the first few and the final day.
In Kaohsiung, I celebrated New Years eve and day with my friend Sha Lin Wu and her family. On the day before New Year’s eve, Momma Wu spend the day cleaning the house (to sweep away bad luck and prepare for good luck) and stayed up late preparing dozens of dishes for the next days rituals. On New Year’s eve she woke early to cook all the food she had prepared, which would be used throughout the day. She packed up about 7 bowls of various vegetarian food items along with fruits, candies, desserts, paper “money.” On New Year’s eve families will visit immediate family members who have passed away. So we drove to the Buddhist/Daoist temple, where the remains of a close family member rest. Momma Wu laid all the items we had brought on the alter table, lit incense, and prayed. Then we waited, because the spirits had to eat the food that she had placed. After some time, she took the packets of paper money and burned them, then packed up the food. This food had now been “blessed” and would be eaten by the family later.
Returning home, Momma Wu repeated this cycle two more times. First she set up a small table adorning it with more food and incense. This was for the god over their home. Then after some time, a larger table was set with even more food, rice, and fruits for the families ancestors.
Once the foods have been used/eaten, those fruits and dishes cannot be used again for another ritual, so there is tons of food to be cooked, bought, and eaten! The various items became part of our New years eve feast that night.
Then we visited a temple to ring in the new year at midnight! It was exciting to see so many devotees come to the temple to pray and light incense. My friends did a great job of explaining the different deities to me and gave lengthy explanations of the different rituals! From the balcony of the temple we caught site of firecrackers in the sky – how cool!
The next day, New Years Day, is a day where many families are out and about in Kaohsiung. We tried to avoid the large crowds by staying in the city, visiting the Zuoying district. It was a hot day and the area was full of vendors and people of all regions, but the experience was beautiful! Eventually we escaped to a coffee house near the airport to watch the flights take off and play card games all afternoon!
It was a lovely way to end my time here in Taiwan, but my time must come to an end for now. I couldn’t be more blessed to have had the experience to explore this country (and there is so much more to discover) and to meet such wonderful people! I will hold their love, warmth, and spirituality in my heart as I fly back to China tomorrow. The Chinese New Year offers another new start- a revived spirit, a new teaching semester, and new sense of the culture I am living in.