A Typical Chinese New Year’s Eve at Our Home in Taiwan

Chinese New Year Decor
Chinese New Year Decor

[This was written about a week ago!]

Many of my expat friends as well as my friends back in Canada have asked me this question many times ‘What is it like to celebrate Chinese New Year in Taiwan?’ – What exactly does it entail? What specifically is expected of you as a host? How do you prepare to welcome the New Lunar Year?

And in all honesty, not much is expected of me. However, I thought I would write a post that gives a run-down of a typical Chinese New Year’s Eve at our house, the C’s!  [As I mentioned before, the feast has been held at our house since we moved in.]

The day prior to the holidays, my husband’s youngest brother, G, returns (well, to our house) to avoid the traffic and the ‘three people in a car’ policy to get on the major freeways in Taiwan.

Lunar New Year Eve is all about family! My mother-in-law, Mrs. C, is up at the crack of dawn and heads to the local morning market to buy freshest produce for the feast that will be held later that evening. She has spent a week or two prior to Chinese New Year’s Eve devising a menu to ensure that all are accommodated, more specifically the daughter-in-laws. She will usually enlist the help of my husband or her youngest son to assist her.

Then, she starts the preparation phase of the meal. All vegetables are cleaned and cut, all herbs and other ingredients are washed and chopped, and all meat is rinsed and cut into bite size pieces. I will usually help with this phase of the meal and I usually assist her in getting any ingredients or utensils she needs. During this phase, my husband’s two oldest brothers and their families are making their way to Central Taiwan from Taipei.

The dishes that take the longest to cook (usually soup which needs to slimmer for hours) are the first to be attended to. Then, it is on the cooking the other dishes. Most are fried using a wok and some are boil. Taiwanese never bake anything, so an oven is never used.

Most dishes for the feast are prepared by early afternoon. They are then loaded into the car(s) and taken to an altar located at my husband’s childhood house. Usually, my husband’s oldest brothers and their families are waiting there for us. The food is used as an offering to their ancestors. The food is placed on the table in front of the altar and each member of the family ‘bai bai’s (prays/worships) to their decreased family members by holding three incense sticks.

Some time is given for the ancestors to ‘enjoy the offering.’  During this time, it is an opportunity to chat with other family members who are also there and catch up with them.

Two crescent wooden pieces are then thrown to see if they are finished.  When the wooden crescent pieces are thrown and fall on opposite sides (one up and one down), it is time to burn the ghost money. Then, the food is once again packed into the car and we make our way back home.

While the food is being reheated and some other dishes are being cooked, there is a giving of ‘hong bao’s (red envelopes) containing money. The amount of money enclosed varies but typically the money is new and crisp, often referred to as ‘lucky money.’ I often reminisce about receiving my first red envelope during this time.

My husband’s niece and nephew are the recipients as well as my mother-in-law. I always get one from my husband as well! 🙂

Then, the feast begins. All ten of us gather around and enjoy the huge feast prepared. It is a nice time to catch-up, chat, and talk.

When the meal is finished, most family members watch a movie while I do the dishes and my husband prepares for the mahjong game with his former classmates, which usually starts around 8 that night.

And I end the night by curling up in the comfy chair in the sunroom with a book and a glass of wine.

Happy Lunar New Year! Gongxi Fa Cai! Happy Year of the Goat!

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37 thoughts on “A Typical Chinese New Year’s Eve at Our Home in Taiwan

  1. The cooking parts are more or less the same (my mom is busy in the kitchen right now with me providing silent moral support 😀 ), but here we don’t serve the food to the ancestors first. I can imagine it would be super more work if we do what you do in Taiwan!

    Happy New Year to you and your family, Constance! 🙂

    1. I saw your pictures – it is amazing how many dishes your mother cooked! And yes, offering the food before dinner is more work but I think it is good that they follow and respect their customs.

      Hope the year of the good is off to an amazing start for you!

  2. Happy New Year 🙂

    Today we will visit some new friends of my wife after I am at some point back from work…However the next days I can relax a bit more, no work till tuesday and Nathans birthday coming up (new blog post perhaps..)

    Today it shall be hot pot for dinner!

  3. Happy New Year, Constance! 🙂

    My boyfriend’s family has never organized a CNY dinner at home since I knew them, but they get together and go to a restaurant to eat, drink and celebrate. We will be going there in about one hour, hehe. I hope they don’t ask when I am planning to have a baby 😉

    1. Happy Lunar New Year to you, too! Going to a restaurant sounds like a lot less work. However, I kind of enjoy the preparation part. There is something special about sitting together and having a chat while my MIL cooks. [But, when it came to doing the dishes, I had a different tune and would love to have been at a restaurant]!

  4. Dear Constance:
    I also like you, I do not look forward to the New Year, but the New Year or the children’s favorite holiday, they can get a red envelope and winter vacation.
    Today is bumper year fourth day, Happy New year.:)

  5. we were in Taipei for a CNY several years ago and we did enjoy everything, the ambiance was really nice and yummy… 🙂 Happy CNY, Constance! friendly hugs, Mélanie – a Cappy gal… 🙂

  6. So let me get this strait. First you make a bunch of food, then you take it to the ancestors and offer it, then you pack it all back up and take it onward to have with the big meal? I think that is really a nice gesture (although it feels a little mean to pack it all back up again and take it away.) Do they have any perpetual offerings that periodically get changed out such as fruits?

  7. Happy New Year Constance!
    I wish you all the best! And that diner did sound fun and very similar to the mainland.
    Sadly I was travelling during the celebration but still through a few lanterns with our wishes in the sky at night.

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