In the days leading up to Chinese New Year’s Eve, everyone is busy cleaning, doing some last-minute errands, and putting the finishing touches on preparations to welcome the new Lunar Year. Here are a list of customs and traditions usually associated with Chinese New Year in Taiwan.
Most Taiwanese thoroughly clean their home to greet the New Lunar Year. Windows are cleaned, old furniture and other unwanted belongings are thrown away, and the house is neatly rearranged on the inside and outside. Their philosophy is to disregard the old, unused ‘stuff’ to make room for the new luck. In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, it is not unusual to see Taiwanese balancing loads of buckets, brooms, mops, and other cleaning products on their scooters.
Also, many locals believe that you should not sweep or mop toward any windows or doors during the first few days of the Lunar New Year. Sweep in the direction of either and you will sweep away your new luck. Basically, they think the ‘new luck’ will go out the door or window!
Old spring couplets from the previous year are removed and new, freshly painted New Year Couplets are placed around the entrances to welcome the new year.
Spring Couplets contain poetic combinations of characters expressing luck and good fortune. Also, each couplet contains the same number of characters. Many couplets are now factory made but most people opt for the more traditional, hand-written calligraphy couplets, written with black ink on bright red paper.
The couplets are usually hung with rice glue, a type of adhesive which is easily removable with soap and water.
Firecrackers are an integral part of any Chinese New Year celebration. At midnight, many Taiwanese welcome the Lunar New Year by setting off firecrackers. The sound of firecrackers can be heard at various times during the new year as businesses officially open after the holidays.
In Taiwan, setting off firecrackers is prohibited in urban areas; however, I have heard them from time to time in Taipei. If you travel to the more rural areas (and rural in Taiwan usually means a place with sometimes 80,000 residents), be prepared for lots of booms and bangs.
Ask any Taiwanese child what their favorite aspect of Chinese New Year is and their immediate response will be ‘Red Envelopes.’ Those brightly colored envelopes contain money, and not just any money: new, crisp, lucky money!!
Red envelopes are commonly given to children by parents and other relatives preceding the evening’s feast on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Upon receiving a red envelope, children usually say ‘Gongxi’ meaning congratulations or ‘Gongxi Fa Cai.’ Parents and grandparents are also the recipients of red envelopes from working children as a sign of respect and a gesture of appreciation.
Visiting Other Homes & Gift Etiquette:
It is a common practice in Taiwan to bring a gift when visiting other households, especially during Chinese New Year. The most common gifts are boxes of high quality fruit, and special gift boxes of cookies, chocolate, candy, wine, or alcohol of some sort.
In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, supermarkets take advantage of all available floor space to display these gift boxes in order to entice holiday shoppers to purchase them in abundance. Also, ‘re-gifting’ is a common practice here.
Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner:
The Chinese New Year’s Eve feast, sometimes referred to as the ‘family reunion dinner,’ is a major gathering of all family members and it is typically held at the household of the eldest family member. However, this is not always the case. A large majority of Taiwanese families opt to dine at restaurants now to avoid the hassle of preparing and cooking an extravagant meal for such a large amount of people.
Furthermore, the menu varies from family to family and from location to location. It is common for most families to have a fish dish of some sort and they will not consume the entire fish. Again, like a lot of beliefs in Taiwan, it involves a play on words. The word for fish in Chinese is ‘yu’ and the word for excess or surplus is ‘yu’ (same pronunciation, some tone, different character). Locals believe that leaving some of the fish means that there will be fish and leftovers in the New Year as well as a surplus of wealth and good fortune.
New, Red Clothes:
Most Taiwanese buy new clothes to wear on Chinese New Year’s Eve and during the first few days of the new year. Usually red is the color of choice for obvious reasons.
Also, many people wear red underwear for good luck, especially when playing Mahjong with friends and family. If you go to the market prior to Chinese New Year, you will see stands selling lucky underwear to winning phrases written on them.
Play Mahjong or Card Games:
Chinese New Year is a time for friends to get together and catch-up. Instead of sitting around chatting, most people will participate a friendly game of Mahjong. It is an annual tradition for several people and one they look forward to immensely.
Chinese New Year Bonus:
And last but not least, the famous Chinese New Year Bonus! The bonus depends on the company or organization, but it is typically one month’s salary; however, it can be a car, stock shares, or a large sum of money!
Which of these customs and traditions are you familiar with? Are there any variations? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments box below! I would love to hear from you!
Wanna know more about Chinese New Year? Be sure to check out my other posts!