Chinese New Year in Taiwan

When is the Chinese New Year?

The Chinese New Year in Taiwan usually falls in February – this year it is February 12, and this is a public national holiday that all have been waiting for. The Taiwanese return to their family home and have a big family reunion, indulging in a festive meal to celebrate, and travel to see more family in the following days. This Chinese New Year will change the year to 110 and will welcome the arrival of the Year of the Ox, which is the second animal in the zodiac cycle. 

The 15 days of Chinese New Year comes to an end with the start of the Lantern Festival, which runs for two to three weeks.

Spring cleaning for Chinese New Year in Taiwan
So this might not be for everyone but cleaning is actually a big part of Chinese New Year! 

The day before Chinese New Year you should do a proper spring cleaning. It is the way that you can get ‘rid of the old and bring in the new’. You get rid of this year's bad luck, bad sayings, and things - of course by saying properly goodbye and making space for your luck, and welcome the new year. You should get rid of clutter and physical items that obstruct your luck and happiness(Feng Shui). 

However, it is important to respect the correct timing for cleaning. It should only be done before Chinese New Year, as you can sweep away your luck if you do it during Chinese New Year.

Another important tradition is that you should not throw out any garbage nor clean the house until the fifth day of the Chinese New Year in Taiwan. This, however, is a tough tradition to follow in modern-day Taipei, therefore many only uphold the ‘no-cleaning’ tradition. (According to Taipei City Government there will be no trash collection on 2/12, 2/13, and 2/14. The garbage will resume the regular schedule on Monday, 2/15. The big item pick up between 2/11 - 2/16 is canceled therefore you also see more big items out for collection now - before the New Year)

Purchase new clothes - ideally red! 

Indeed you are permitted to go shopping  - really! You have to go shopping! It is in your family's best interest. Representing the new beginning that comes at New Year, numerous Taiwanese like to welcome the new year with a new fancy outfit, or as a minimum red socks or underwear.
The New Year is a chance for a fresh start for everyone, and so many people choose to wear new clothes for the first few days of the holidays.

New Year - New clothes - New start. 

For Chinese New Years' eve you dress up in your new clothes, and many families actually continue in the days that follow to ensure you have secured your luck for the year. 

Why the color RED?
Red to Chinese means joy, happiness, karma, bliss, and all things positive. Therefore, the whole country is wrapped in red! 

 

Chinese New Year's Eve - what happens

The dinner on New Year's Eve is for the family, and often the extended family. The dinner is prepared by the patriarch of the family, and bear in mind that the family coming to dinner can include uncles, aunts, grandparents, siblings, and extended family. 

After dinner traditions are different, some go to temples to pray for good fortune, others gather around the Mahjong board to gamble with the money just received, others fire fireworks.

On the days after New Year, you normally go to your wife's family on days 2 and 3.
On day 4 you should stay at home doing as little as possible because it is an unlucky day!

Red envelopes and whom to give

The one tradition that many foreigners know of is the giving of red envelopes for Chinese New Year in Taiwan. Some children wait with warm anticipation for Santa, but here in Taiwan children wait for the red envelopes. There is not really a tradition of giving physical gifts to family, but some business relations, friends, and neighbors could be offered a gift like cake, candy, or chocolate wrapped in red(as seen in 7-11 and other convenient stores).

The envelopes are to be seen as a gesture of goodwill, you should not look at the giving and receiving as a financial aim, but an expression of a growing relationship. The red envelopes given to the raising parent and grandparents are given as a sign of appreciation and respect for the childhood the giver has been given. In some families, parents give red envelopes to their children until the day their children reach a certain age, starn earning their own money or get married. At that point the receivers become givers. 

After the family dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve, the elderly pass the red envelopes to the children(older children and adults also give their parents as a sign of respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they have made to bring them up.).  

Good amounts to put in the envelopes: 

NTD$ 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1600, 1800, 2000, 3600(particular good number, 3800, 6000 and 8000
Remember no amount with 4 and no 1.

As mentioned the dinner is for the extended family, therefore the receivers of the red envelopes, it can become a very profitable evening! The amount of money to give is important. Too little or too much will be an offense, and of course should never include a 4, as it is an unlucky number associated with death.

Do’s and don'ts of giving and receiving the red envelope.

  • Please never open the envelope in the presence of the person who gives you the envelope. Previously, you should then put the envelope under your pillow for the night, however today you can open the envelope when you get home.
  • Do not eat everything on your plate - if you leave nibbles these are good luck for your year to come
  • You should avoid breaking things as a break during the holiday symbolizes a warning of a family rift or bad luck in the coming year. If this actually happens to you, quickly say "suisui ping'an”, which is supposed to dissolve the bad fortune.
  • Please avoid negative words and sharp objects
    So you cannot use knives and scissors, as it is said you cut out the good luck and bring bad luck during the Chinese New Year holiday. You should even eat your food whole, no cutting of foods! 
  • Negative thoughts and words will draw bad karma to you therefore you should avoid using negative words during this holiday! 

Gaming on Chinese New Years evening

Gambling is not legal in Taiwan but on New Year's evening, it is ok, in the comforting company of your family. For Chinese New Year in Taiwan, families gather around board games or cards and use the money from the red envelopes just received. Mahjong is for many families the game to play the tile-based game that was developed during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in China. Remember to wear your lucky red underwear 😉 (Here is a link if you would like to learn the traditional Mahjong game for next holiday)

Words you need to know

新年快乐 / 新年快樂 (Xīnnián kuàilè) Happy New Year
恭喜發財 (gōng xǐ fā cái) Wish you prosperity/ Wish you rich

Couplets decorate your house

You have probably seen all the beautiful couplets you can buy at many stores. The couplets are beautifully hand-drawn or printed with traditional Chinese calligraphy and have poems or spiritual messages to bring your family good karma.

There are certain locations to put the couplets, some go on your bedroom door, the kitchen or fridge, and the front door. These should be put up between 06:00-12:00 am on New Year's Eve day. The couplets have different meanings and the word decides where the couplet are to be placed.

These couplets should stay for the entire year as they wish you good luck and fortune, however, if and when you take them down, you should tear them to pieces as this symbolizes to get rid of the old and welcome the new.

Important! Don’t sleep before midnight!

Like many other New Years' Eve, you are not to sleep before midnight. 

For the Taiwanese elders, it is a way to bid the past times farewell. The young Taiwanese stay awake past midnight to honor the time they have left with their parents and grandparents, to show your hope to have more time with them.

What to eat during Chinese New Year in Taiwan

Without a doubt, the Taiwanese people love to eat, and for the Chinese New Year, this is no exception.
Food is an important part of life in Taiwan, therefore there are naturally particular dishes and foods that must be eaten on that day. 

Numerous businesses close down for the public holidays, but restaurants stay open as this is their prime time. Every family has their own traditional dishes but equal for all is that dumplings (Nian Gao), Tofu, sweet ham sandwiches, and oranges, mandarins, Pineapple should be eaten on Chinese New Year's Eve.

Do remember if visiting a Taiwanese family then it is expected that you try everything on the table, but don’t finish the fish and leave nibbles on your plate as it brings good luck. The meal served for the family consists of many dishes, that are carefully chosen for good luck and there is enough to feed a small army.

Firecrackers

Firecrackers are a must for all festive occasions in Taiwan, Chinese New Year is no exception. Throughout the night the loud noise will be going on to scare off the beast “Nian”, bad karma, and evil spirits. In some residential areas some frown upon the loud noise of firecrackers, but on this night you should venture into the night and explore your neighborhood to see the firecrackers. However keep in mind that setting off fireworks is not illegal, but not welcomed in certain areas.

 

Festival and public celebration

Due to the pandemic, many festivals or public activities are canceled, Pingxi lantern festival is one of them. Chinese New Year in Dihua Street is canceled, however, you can still get an authentic experience by visiting as many shops are full of materials for Chinese New Year in Taiwan. It is only the extra pop-up shops that are not there this year.

  • Pingxi is the place to go to set up your lantern with your wishes for a fortunate year.
  • Lion and Dragon dance: Try to find your local lion and dragon dance show in front of your department store(please call ahead to find the exact performance time). There are a few scattered and popping up in different areas, however, you should check with your locals to see where the dance is going on.