Chinese New Year Taiwan: Year of the Rat 2020

January 4, 2020

Xinnian Kuaile ! (Happy New Year!)

Lunar New Year, typically known as Chinese New Year (2020), is one of the most important festivals for people of Chinese decent all around the world. In Taiwan the New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is the longest public holiday in the Taiwanese calendar. The first five days are usually a public holiday, giving people time off for family time, temple visits, and feasting on traditional Chinese New Year dishes.
Nowadays, many people use the time to travel, so make sure to book air tickets, bus tickets, all the tickets… a few months in advance if traveling during the Chinese New Year period. The exact dates change yearly, but it typically falls between January and February. This year, we celebrate the year of the Rat.

Year of the Rat: 2020

This year Chinese New Year 2020 brings on the Rat, the first of all zodiac animals. According to one story, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first. Tricky, eh?
In the terms of yin and yang the Rat is yang and represents the beginning of a new day.
In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. Because they seem to multiply quite quickly, married couples also prayed to them for children.

What Exactly Goes on Before Chinese New Year?

The Weiya

A few weeks prior to the holiday, city streets in front of restaurants begin to fill with happy people carrying packages of prizes after a lot of drink and a big meal. The weiya, a banquet hosted by all companies to show appreciation for their employees hard work and dedication during the past year. A meal, prizes and year-end bonus are a highlights of the occasion.
Each year during weiya time, most fine restaurants are fully booked with parties celebrating this happy annual celebration. Some local high-end companies evan hold a weiya on a large scale, a grand event with not only the employees but their families too, with raffle prizes including a BMW or Mercedes, and entertainment courtesy of local celebrities. If you’re an English teacher at a chain school, chances are there will be many performances, a spirited host, and raffles of money and prizes. If you haven’t attended one, you should, just to see what it’s all about and understand a little more about Taiwanese cultures.

The Spring Clean-Up

Most households begin preparation for CNY by undergoing a thorough clean-up called da saochu, which often includes not only cleaning the rooms of the house, but also every window pane, window screen, and curtain. The purpose of this is not only to remove any unwanted materials at home but also to symbolically sweep away any bad luck and misfortune from the past year. Sweeping or dusting should not be performed on New Year’s Day or else the fresh year’s good fortune will be swept away.

Flowers and plants

Blooming flowers and plants symbolize rebirth, youth and new growth. Flowers, as the precursors of fruit and seed, are also symbolic of wealth and the hope for attaining a higher position in one’s career in the New Year. Therefore it is important to have some type of floral decoration in the home to welcome the fresh start. Spring couplets These are ‘must have’ items during CNY for sharing the happy spirit of the festival.

Spring Couplets

These are the red signs that are often hung outside every apartment house, office, and store around and during the holiday. They are normally hung around doorways. 
Spring couplets are short poems, idioms or expressions that describe the arriving of spring, good fortune, long life and prosperity for the coming year. They are traditionally handwritten in gold or black ink on red paper, but now commercially printed couplets can be bought everywhere at traditional markets supermarkets and at street vendors.
You will find many Taiwanese keep spring couplets on the door all year round, hoping to attract more luck and good energy throughout the entire year, only changing them again before the next Chinese New Year.

Traditional Lunar New Year Goodies

During Chinese New Year, families stock up with food and goodies to welcome families and friends. In Taipei, the Dihua Street, or the dry market, is the most popular location to buy New Year’s goods in Taiwan. This boasting market is bursting with interesting shops with foods, sweets, dried fruits, melon seeds, nuts, colorful candies and hundreds of other goodies while wonderful Chinese New Year celebration songs play in the background. Feeling the chaos and the high spirits of the jostling crowds on narrow streets is apart of the experience.

Double Word Meanings

The names of many fruits and flowers sound similar to lucky words or phrases in Chinese. For example: The Chinese word for orange, ju, also sounds like the word for “lucky, auspicious’, which is why people buy oranges or potted orange or tangerine plants to decorate their homes.
In Mandarin, the word for the fruit persimmon is pronounced shi, which suggests the expression “shi shi ru yi” (may everything happen as you wish’).
Rice cakes called nian gao, symbolically bring to mind the phrase ‘nian nian gao sheng ‘, a blessing meant to encourage advancement one’s job during the coming years.
Another rice cake is called fa gao. ‘Fa’ means ‘to make plenty of money’. All types of sweets symbolize happiness and good fortune.
During CNY, each family has a candy tray, normally circular signifying togetherness.
Catch our drift? The double word meanings are endless.

What Exactly Goes on During Chinese New Year?

Worship ancestors Though in modern Taiwan

Each generation shows progressively less interest in the confusing and elaborate rituals undertaken during CNY, but there are still some commonly performed in the homes of most Taiwanese families. Families with an ancestral altar or worship altar begin the morning of Chinese New Year’s Eve by first performing the ritual in prayer to request the gods they believe in to join in the celebration of this festival. Later in the afternoon, it is time to welcome the family’s ancestral souls or spirits to join this yearly festivity by speaking to the family ancestral wooden tablet on the altar, where it is believed the soul lives on after mortal death, and invite them to enjoy food prepared for them on the altar table. When these two basic ceremonies are over, the family then can prepare the New Year’s Eve feast, which the whole family will join.

New Year’s Eve dinner

Family members who have left their hometowns make every effort to return on New Year’s Eve to join together for a night of good food and family unity. This traditional feast is called ‘weilu’ or ‘surrounding the hearth/stove’ where everyone huddles close together at the table for warmth and for family joy and thanksgiving. Hot pot is the most common treat, placed at the center of the circular table, and the constant simmering of the pot symbolizes continuing financial success in the coming year. 

Fish, in Chinese pronounced yu, which has the t same pronunciation as the word for ‘abundance’. It’s important eve an abundance of food, which symbolizes a surplus of good things for the coming year. Though every family prepares fish for their New Year’s Eve table,  no one dares to eat it all. This is because they want to leave something for the remainder of the year. We have also heard that the whoever will eat the fish eye will have good luck for the year to come…
When the clock strikes twelve, the New Year is welcomed with endless firecrackers and fireworks, which can be heard for hours into the night. Shooting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is a way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the new one. Children of all ages in my generation grew up playing with firecrackers during CNY, yet it is harder nowadays to find children playing with them in the cities as it is more difficult to buy them. Nonetheless, it is still a tradition in rural areas.


Red Brings Happiness and Luck

Red represents happiness, joy, luck and the hope that everything good will follow automatically. Red envelopes (hongbao) with money inside are given during CNY as gifts to signify good fortune and to wish good luck in the New Year. The cash should be in even numbers and the notes should be crisp and fresh, as this symbolizes giving good energy for the start of the New Year. 

Red envelopes are also (usually) given to employees as bonuses during Chinese New Year. Most companies retain the tradition of giving a red envelope to employees as a gesture of appreciation of hard work ad good luck for the coming year by inserting a payment slip detailing the actual bonus amount in the red envelope instead of cash. There is no fixed amount to put into a red envelope, but even numbers including the figure ‘six’ are always good.

Fifteenth Day: Lantern Festival

Chinese New year officially ends on the 15th of the Lunar New Year, which is called the Lantern Festival. Paper lanterns are lit and let go into the night sky as people make wishes for the coming year. These lanterns are made of thin rice paper stretched on a wire frame. In the township of Pingsi, just southeast of Taipei, thousands of people gather on this night to send off lanterns with their wishes of the year written on the outside. It’s a peaceful sight to gaze to gather with a group of people all sending their hopes off into the night. Even if you have to touch elbows with others, it is worth it to go.

Feng Pow Beehive Festival

Another tradition unique to Taiwan during Lantern Festival is the Beehive Rocket Festival, or Feng Pow held in the town of Yanshui in Tainan County. This is a rather different experience… tens of thousands of small rockets and firecrackers are fired into the air and often straight into the crowds. The point is to actually get hit by a rocket. Last year Johan and I took a trip to see it ourselves.
Lunar New Year is a very festive period and is one of Taiwan’s most culturally fascinating occasions hope you will experience the energy of Lunar New Year with lots of delicious food, lucky money, firecrackers and some lantern fun.

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