You may know that in China, Chinese New Year is a much more important holiday than Christmas or New Year’s Eve. (In fact, since 2018, China has banned the celebration of all western holidays altogether.) You may know that even though the entire world welcomes January 1st as the new year, in China, people celebrate New Year after the lunar calendar and use the 12 animal zodiac to calculate the lunar new year cycle. Since the celebration follows the lunar calendar, the first day varies each year. For 2017, the first day of the lunar calendar new year lies on the 28th of January. However, in 2018, the first day of the new year was February 15th. You get the drift.

However, did you know that China is not the only country that celebrates THIS new year in their culture?

Countries including Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and among many others also celebrate this holiday after the lunar calendar.

I personally find it offensive when westerners ask us, “Oh, so you also celebrate Chinese New Year?”

Dude, we don’t also celebrate Chinese New Year. We just celebrate new year following the lunar calendar that was unified by an emperor from the Ming Dynasty. That’s all.

Despite some of the countries might have adopted the cultural heritage because of the complicated history between China and the surrounding countries, we all have established our unique ways to rejoice the festivity.

So, to be politically correct, it’s only fair to refer this festival as the lunar new year or the Spring Festival instead of Chinese new year.

In fact, in China, I’ve only heard Chinese calling lunar new year Spring Festival (chūn-jié). In Taiwan, it has always been the lunar new year (nóng-lì xin-nián.) In addition, like many western countries celebrate Christmas in their individual ways, it’s the same with the lunar new year, so here I am introducing you the lunar new year I know in Taiwan!

The lunar new year officially begins the night before the first day of the calendar.

People are on holidays for about four days and start working on the fifth or the sixth day. Also, before the lunar new year’s eve, people would do a very thorough cleaning of the entire home. It symbolises getting rid of the old and welcoming the new.

#1. The Lunar New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner

Taiwan technically is still a patriarchic society, so usually, if you are a married female, you will have this meal with your in-laws’ family. If you are single, you go to dinner at your paternal grandparents’ place. A typical must-have dish is a fish since the Mandarin word for fish (yú) has the same pronunciation as the word for “abundance.” The other dish that would appear on the dinner table or as a snack is the new year rice cake (nián gāo.) Eating this rice cake symbolises raising yourself higher and taller in the coming year. Why? Because the word “nián” means “year,” and the word “gāo” (in this case means “cake”) has the same pronunciation as “tall/high.”

I recently realized that the dishes that’d appear on a Taiwanese lunar new year dinner table are mostly meat because back in the days (1940s~1970s), having meat to eat is a luxury.

#2. New Year’s Day (The First Day)

In my family, one of the traditions (which I dislike) is going to the church for new year sermon. But obviously, that’s not what the rest of the population in Taiwan does. After the church, we would go back to my grandma’s house to eat the leftovers from last night. Doing so means that we have more than enough to eat that’s leftover from the last year, hence having a new year filled with abundance. Young children would go out to relatives’ households and say lucky words to get the red envelopes from the elders.

#3. The Red Envelope

Every family deals with this a bit differently. In my family, if you are not married, you get red envelopes enclosed with money from your parents, your grandparents and other relatives. Some of my friends are “disqualified” to receive red envelopes as soon as they have a full-time job and need to start handing out the red envelopes to your parents and grandparents. Prepare to dish out a lot of money if your siblings have children.

Before the lunar new year, people go to the banks to get brand new bills to put inside of the red envelopes. The reason behind it is unknown. Perhaps it symbolises as a new start. On a side note, the red envelopes come in many different designs. It’s definitely an art!

Also, the money you put inside of the envelope must only include even numbers. However, avoid “4” and “8” because 4 sounds like “death” in Mandarin and 8 sounds like “so long.” (In China, 8 is a good number because it also sounds like “getting rich”) Why only even numbers? Because good things come in pairs.

#4. The Second Day

This is the day when all married women and her family return to their parents’ home for a family gathering. It’s another day to enjoy loads of food prepared by the other side of the family.   Yes, more food!

#5. Firecrackers, Fireworks, and the Lion Dance.

When I was a child, setting out firecrackers is one of the most exciting activities. The tradition of shooting firecrackers during the lunar new year came from a story about scaring away a monster that eats people. Though, I feel like kids today don’t do this anymore.

I’ve only seen the firecrackers and lion dance skit in the Chinatown of New York City. It was one of the best experiences. If you are not in an Asian country that celebrates the lunar new year but wants to get some authenticity out of this festival, go to a Chinatown!

Travel tips for China and Taiwan during the lunar new year: 

The lunar new year is a national holiday, so many shops and restaurants won’t open on New Year’s Eve and the first two days of New Year. However, nowadays, many restaurants also offer traditional new year dinner for families that don’t want to bother with cooking.

If you are not from a culture that celebrates the lunar new year, see if you can manage to spend the lunar new year with an Asian family. It’d be an interesting experience. Also, by showing up as a guest, you’d save your friend from answering questions such as “Where’s your boyfriend/girlfriend?” Why are you not married yet? You’re already 30!” “How much money do you make a year?” … etc. That’s a whole ‘other topic though!

Have you ever celebrated lunar new year? Tell me about your experience!

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