MAGAZINE, FEB. 2000. VOL. 7 ISSUE 2
The Year of the Rabbit
By Douglas Habecker
For most expatriates living in Taiwan, a wonderful bonus is being
around to witness the fun, festivities and traditions that take
place and are observed during the Chinese New Year, which is based
on the lunar calender.
In addition to getting yet another major vacation so soon after
Christmas and the New Year, foreigners have the opportunity to get
caught up in a holiday spirit which is somewhat similar but yet
so different from the western celebrations which precede by a month
However, what exactly goes on at this time? Other than the requisite
year-end company "wei ya" banquet, the giving of "red
envelopes" and, of course, firecrackers, many outsiders are
not familiar with some of the other traditions which have evolved
over the milleniums of Chinese history.
Technically, the one-month Chinese New Year season lasts from the
middle of the lunar 12th month of the previous year to the middle
of the new year's first month. As any resident of the island knows
from experience, this period is the local equivalent of the Christmas
shopping and traveling season in North America, with no shortage
of spending on gifts, new clothes, decorations and so on. Buying
domestic or international transportation tickets during this time
can also be a nightmare, due to the fact that everyone is going
home to be with family or, during more recent years, traveling somewhere
Prior to the holiday climax(the actual new year and following few
days, it is traditional to get busy with a thorough house cleaning,
which is also supposed to sweep away ill fortune and make way for
Streetside vendors also sell the bright red paper banners(painted
with couplets pertaining to happiness, wealth, longevity and similar
themes(which are pasted around doors and windows. An offering to
food to one's ancestors at the family "god shelf" isn't
a bad idea, either.
The all-important new year's eve is celebrated with a dinner feast
with one's family. There are several foods which are traditionally
consumed at this time. Many of these have names with dual names
There's the "nien kao", or "year cake", made
from sweet rice, which can also signify a higher ("kao"),
or better, year. Fish is considered lucky and refers to the idea
of leaving something over for the new year. The tiny "ji tzu"
oranges are considered lucky, either as plants or consumed.
Boiled "chiao tzu" dumplings are also popular because
the name can literally mean "sleep together and have sons".
After a big meal, there's nothing better than staying up late with
one's relatives to watch TV, sing karaoke and play games including
gambling over mahjong. Firecrackers are set off, both by playing
children and businesses hoping to scare away evil spirits.
Early on new year's day, children will greet their parents and get
their "red envelopes" stuffed with cash. Over the next
several days, there will plenty of visiting and well-wishing and
gift-giving between relatives, friends, acquaintances and neighbors.
The standard greeting is "gung hsi fa tsai", meaning "congratulations
and good fortune". Usually new year's day is spent with the
husband's parents and family, followed the next day by a visit to
the wife's side of the family. This helps explain the massive crush
of traffic during these days, as people move around the island.
Some superstitions observed at this time include, after the new
year's banquet, not sweeping anything out of the house (which would
sweep away luck). Any sweeping should be inward, not the opposite.
Also, no trash is to be taken out on new year's day, no doubt giving
sanitation engineers a much-needed day off. Break anything glass
at this time and you should say "suei suei ping an", or
"save the peace", to counteract bad luck.
Usually about the fourth of fifth day of the new year, shops and
businesses will begin re-opening, causing another eruption of fireworks.
The Chinese New Year season officially closes 15 days into the new
year, when Lantern Festival takes place. This charming, picturesque
occasion is marked by lantern shows, folk performances and the consumption
of "tang yuan", small balls of sweet rice containing sweet
and spicy fillings, which boiled into a tasty treat. Children in
particular enjoy this time and can be seen in the evenings with
parents, parading with a variety of traditional and modern lanterns.
With a little knowledge of what is going on around you at this most
special time of the year in Taiwan, you can increase your enjoyment
of festivities to welcome the new lunar year. Best wishes for a
very happy and prosperous Year of the Rabbit!
More on Chinese New Year: The
Ancient Origins of Chinese New Year
English Language Chinese New Year's Cards: http://www.123greetings.com/events/chinese_new_year/happy/