This year, I was lucky enough to be in Taiwan when Lunar New Year (LNY) was being celebrated. Every year, LNY falls on a different day on the Gregorian Calendar, always around late January or early February. I wanted to spend LNY with my grandparents and auntie up in Taipei, but I was somewhat coerced into going down south to celebrate it with my paternal family. According to tradition, this is how its done. I personally find this tradition to mildly sexist, but like with many instances on my trip back to Taiwan, I have learned to swallow my opinions. Sometimes, swallowing too many undivulged opinions result in a proverbial vomit, often getting my sweet ass into trouble with my elders. But what is said cannot be undone, and with apologies profusely given, I have struck a truce with traditions and customs that I don’t agree with.
With my nebulous mini-rant out of the way, let’s get into the details of how we celebrated LNY in Douliu. Douliu is a small-ish city in the middle of Taiwan, serving as the economic and governmental capital of Yunlin County. This is where my dad grew up, and where I spent many summers of my childhood melting in the heat and humidity. Compared to Taipei, it has a very tame and laid-back vibe, with really not much to do in terms of recreation, entertainment, and nightlife. But like everywhere else in Taiwan, Douliu is not lacking in tasty food and drink. And with food playing a central role in LNY, the meals were certainly delicious and opulent during this year’s celebration.
LNY is arguably the most important holiday that Taiwan celebrates. I cannot profess to be an expert on LNY, as this is the first time that I’ve experienced it in its full glory. I’m sure there are PhD dissertations written on the traditions, history, religious ceremonials, etc involved in this ancient holiday. So I can only give a very subjective and condensed description of this celebration.
New Years Eve: (除夕Chuxi)
Chuxi (New Years Eve) is a day for making offerings to ancestors and Daoist deities. Specially cooked foods are offered at home shrines and temples. Paper money is also burnt to ensure that ancestral spirits will have money to use in the realm that they dwell in. The process of immolation is the transformation that allows the corporeal money to be transferred to the spirit world. A big evening meal is also held to celebrate the coming of the new year. Our Douliu shrine is the top floor of my grandparent’s house, which my grandpa maintains immaculately with an everyday incense offering to the bodhisattvas and deities.
New Years Day: (新年 xīnnián)
While Chuxi was for home worship, Xīnnián is a day for going to the temple and paying respects to Buddha and deities. My family and I went to a large Buddhist complex to pay respect to the Buddha Matreiya (also known as the Laughing Buddha in the West). More paper money was burnt at the small shrine holding our ancestor’s cremated ashes.
Days 2 – 15 of the New Year
On the second day of the New Year, married women return to their side of the family to spend the LNY celebration with their families. More eating ensues. Lots of firecrackers are set off, often snapping me out of my binge-eating stupor. Some hardcore people celebrate every day of the New Year until day fifteen. Personally, my digestive system started surrendering after day two. I spent the rest of LNY resting, fasting, and watching all of the existing episodes of The Walking Dead. Not the most auspicious of beginnings.