The biggest celebration in Taiwan each year is the Chinese New Year. Despite Taiwan not being a part of mainland China, most people in Taiwan are of the Han ethnic group and speak Mandarin. And, the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is celebrated around the world, including in this smaller island.
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This public holiday is marked by festivities, family celebrations, and special treats. People come from around the world to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Taiwan. This is a time for honoring the community, remembering deceased loved ones, and looking forward to the future.
In this guide, we’ll explore some of the specific traditions and customs that mark this time of the year in Taiwan.
Is the Chinese New Year the Same in Taiwan?
How does the Chinese New Year compare in China versus Taiwan? Like in China, this is a time when students are let out of school and workers get time off. This is the biggest, most anticipated celebration of the year. Lasting 15 days, this is a time for welcoming luck in the year to come.
Though Taiwan has been under the control of colonists from Spain, the Netherlands, and Japan, this island has a culture that’s distinctly Chinese. Settlers from mainland China made up the original populations of Taiwan. Over time, these groups mixed until Taiwan developed its own culture that reflects many different regions of mainland China.
To this day, there remains tension over Taiwan’s position in relation to China. However, the Taiwanese people are proud of their melting pot society. They embrace these differences and similarities, and they show this excitement during the Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year Traditions in Taiwan
It’s during this celebration that their connection to mainland China is most noticeable, though there are distinct differences in the customs.
Dancing dragons and lions
In mainland China, you’re likely to see both dancing dragons and lions as part of the New Year celebration. However, which animal you see depends on the part of China you’re in. In the north, performers use dragon figures to dance through the streets in celebration. In the south, lions are used.
Because Taiwan is a melting pot of Chinese culture, both dragons and lions are used during the celebration. Why is this the case? When the first groups of people came to Taiwan from China, they were from all different regions. Over time, distinct customs blended together to make something completely unique.
Shopping for gifts
Though the Lunar New Year doesn’t have a religious connection, it’s easy to draw comparisons between this celebration and Christmas. During Christmastime, families buy gifts to exchange on a special day. They also feast and come together to appreciate this special time of year. The same is true of the Chinese New Year, and people in Taiwan go shopping to purchase gifts for friends and family.
Most gifts are practical in nature. For instance, a son might give his mother a new pair of shoes if he knows her old pair was wearing out. Children typically receive money in red envelopes as a gift, and this is also a way to bring good luck upon the family.
Similar to in mainland China, one of the biggest focuses of the Chinese New Year in Taiwan is the family feast. Families and friends gather together to enjoy great food. The cuisine sticks to Chinese classics like pork dumplings, steamed fish, chicken, noodles, and rice.
Again, this type of feast showcases just how much of a melting pot Taiwan is. Noodles are specific to certain cities in China, while rice is usually the staple in southern China. This combination of flavors serves up one of the most anticipated meals in Taiwan.
During the feast, families are only to talk about positive things as a way to bring good luck in the New Year. No matter how good the food is, always be sure to leave some leftovers for a positive fortune!
One of the many ways people honor the New Year is with fireworks. People love to light up the sky to kick off the fun. The local government doesn’t have any official firework displays in the larger cities, but you’re bound to see neighborhoods setting off their own around just about every corner.
While fireworks are set off on the days leading up to the New Year, the biggest shows are during New Year’s Eve. These aren’t the same fireworks you might see in North America. These are ear-piercing rockets that are designed to be as loud as possible. It gets a little bit loud, but it’s all in good fun.
Staying up late
According to legend, a mythical beast tortured a village centuries ago. The beast harmed citizens and livestock, wreaking havoc on the area on New Year’s Eve. Since then, people found a way to protect themselves and their homes from this mythical annoyance: staying up late.
To ward off evil spirits and beasts, people shut their doors and spend the night staying up late. This is the best way to keep safe during the night. Today, kids are encouraged to stay up as late as they possibly can on New Year’s Eve. The longer the kids stay awake, legend says, the longer the parents live.
One thing many people in Taiwan love is the lottery. This is something that’s common all year long, but it’s especially in-demand during the New Year. The public welfare lottery and scratch cards include special New Year’s prizes to bring in more players during this time of year.
All of the funds from this lottery go to help government provisions, so this is a way to help the public sector. Many Taiwanese try their luck during the New Year. Who knows? They might win big!
Spending time with family
If you visit Taiwan during the New Year, you might wonder where everyone went. While shopping centers and tourist spots are empty this time of year, neighborhoods become a bustling epicenter of activity. People travel from all over to be with family and friends during the New Year.
Spending time with your family on these days is said to be a way to bring luck. Not only is this a time to remember family who passed away, but it’s also a time for catching up with relatives. Since it’s common for families to no longer live in the same home in modern times, the New Year is an opportunity to be as one.
Decorate with red
Red is the color of the Chinese New Year, and the people of Taiwan go all out decorating everything in red. Red is a symbol of both joy and happiness. When you wear red, you’re welcoming extra good luck into the New Year.
Red is also used for decorations. Paper lanterns, streamers, and red envelopes decorate homes and towns. Everyone wants an extra dose of good luck during this time of celebration. Some people even wear red underwear for even more luck and positivity.
The focus on red might be a bit confusing if you know a few things about Buddhist funeral customs. Red at a Buddhist burial or funeral is something that should be avoided. While it brings luck to families during times of celebration, it has the opposite effect during times of mourning.
Keep away from sharp or broken things
Paired with the idea of luck comes the idea that you shouldn’t go near any sharp objects or broken things in Taiwan during the New Year. One of the traditions is to avoid breaking anything, especially bowls or glassware. Any breakage symbolizes a family rift or crisis.
In addition, sharp objects like scissors, needles, and knives are a way to “cut” away one’s good fortune. The importance of luck and fortune in Taiwan can’t be understated, especially during the Chinese New Year.
Ring in the New Year in Taiwan
It’s easy to see the similarities between mainland China and Taiwan when it comes to how each culture celebrates the Chinese New Year. However, it is also apparent just how unique Taiwan is when it comes to making the Lunar New Year their own. This special New Year celebration is a time for welcoming in the new while remembering the traditions and customs that came before.
The Chinese New Year is one of the biggest holidays in the world. Seeing how different parts of the world customize this tradition to honor the changing seasons is an inspiring symbol of how cultures express themselves. How do you mark your own New Year celebration?
- “History.” Taiwan: Official Website of the Republic of China. Taiwan.gov.tw.
- “Taiwan Lunar New Year Traditions.” Oftaiwan. OfTaiwan.org.
- Tsai, Eric. “11 Foods You Must Eat During Lunar New Year.” Oftaiwan. 23 February 2015. OfTaiwan.org.