The Chinese New Year is a celebration that is more than 4,000 years old. It is the longest holiday of the year of any tradition, with festivities lasting for almost one whole month. The date of the Chinese New Year is dependent upon the lunar calendar; the holiday falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Thus, each year, the date of the Chinese New Year differs on the Gregorian calendar. However, it typically occurs between January 21 and February 20.
What Are the Customs for Chinese New Year?
The festivities of the Chinese New Year occur during one of the three stages of the holiday: Little Year, Spring Festival and Lantern Festival. Little Year refers to the preparation period and lasts for eight days. In 2020, it begins on January 17th.
Celebrants dedicate Little Year to prayer, memorials and house cleaning. The latter is to sweep away bad luck. People eat sugar melons, which are made of malt and are only available at the start of Little Year. Other foods commonly enjoyed during this stage include wheat cakes and tofu soup.
Little Year concludes with New Year’s Eve, which in 2020 is on the 24th of January (though the lunar date is December 30th). On NYE, families get together to share a meal the culture views as the most important one of the year: the reunion dinner. After dinner, elders give children red envelopes typically containing money. Families then stay up to welcome in the New Year.
The period of the New Year is called the Spring Festival and lasts for 11 days. In 2020, this period begins on January 25th and ends on February 4th.
During the first minute of the New Year, those who celebrate the holiday set off firecrackers and fireworks. From private celebrations to public displays, this tradition is indispensable. In China alone, billions of fireworks go off at midnight, the largest fireworks display of anywhere in the world.
On New Year’s Day, families offer sacrifices to ancestors and blessings to neighbors and friends. The culture does not identify any particular activities for the first day of the Spring Festival, though it is forbidden to sweep on this day, lest a person accidentally sweep away good luck.
Days two through 11 of the Spring Festival have designations. On each day, celebrants must honor certain traditions:
- Day 2 = To the In-Laws: A married woman visits her parent’s home with her husband and children. She should bear gifts of cookies and candies.
- Day 3 = Day of the Rat: Rats marry on this day. Residents leave crackers and grains in the corners of their homes and go to bed early, so as not to disturb the ceremonies. In exchange for this kindness, the rats will not disturb homeowners throughout the remainder of the year.
- Day 4 = Day of the Sheep: Individuals pray to the God of Wealth on this day and offer fruits, wine and meat. At midnight, celebrants welcome in the god by throwing open the windows and celebrating until dawn. Popular food includes sugarcanes and kumquats (for a successful road and sweet life), cakes and a main course.
- Day 5 = Break Five: On this day, many markets and stores reopen. It’s customary to eat dumplings for wealth, though, traditionally individuals should eat dumplings for five consecutive days.
- Day 6 = Day of the Horse: On this day, most say it is okay to return to work. People usher the spirit of poverty away by burning rags and offering banana boat candles. Households also use this day to clean, to satisfy the God of Bathrooms, who is said to visit then.
- Day 7 = Day of the Human: If there is fair weather on the seventh day, it is a sign of a safe and sound year to come. Individuals eat gem porridge of seven different vegetables: celery, kale, garlic, mustard leaves, leek, spring vegetable and a thick, leafy vegetable.
- Day 8 = Day of the Millet: If there is fair weather on day eight, it is a sign of a fruitful harvest. Gray skies are a sign of losses. To show their respect to nature, families release certain pets, such as birds and fish, back into the wild.
- Day 9 = Providence Health: During Providence Health, everyone must bathe and fast. Any meat offerings must be male-only.
- Day 10 = Stone Festival: On this day, people eat bread. After eating, it is believed that the path to wealth will open up and remain smooth during the year ahead.
- Day 11 = Son-in-Law Day: On this day, fathers ask their daughters and their daughter’s husbands to attend dinner.
The Lantern Festival closes out the New Year. It is four days long and begins with preparations and ends with the festival itself. Per the Chinese calendar of 2020, the Lantern Festival will be held on February 8th. The days leading up to the festival are occupied by making lanterns. The day of the Lantern Festival is a full moon, turning the display of hundreds of thousands of lanterns that go up into the sky all the more stunning.
On the day of the Lantern Festival, it is customary to eat rice balls, which represent reunions. They can be either fried or steamed.
What Is 2020’s Chinese New Year Animal?
2020 is the year of the rat. The rat is the first in the 12 cycles of the Chinese zodiac. Though many people consider rats disgusting vermin, in China, Taiwan and other Asian cultures, the animal ranks first on the zodiac calendar for a reason: It represents alertness, wit, delicacy, spirit, flexibility and vitality.
How Do You Enter Taiwan?
If you’re from a western country, such as the U.S., Canada or England, you do not need a visa to enter Taiwan unless you plan to stay for more than 90 days. Citizens of other countries, however, may require an eVisa. Visa aside, you will need your passport and proof of onward travel, such as a return flight home.
When Should You Visit?
When you should visit Taiwan for the Chinese New Year depends on whether you have relations in the area. If you do, then you know it’s best to arrive before or during Little Year, when people are busy preparing for the festivities. This also gives you a chance to settle in for a long period with your loved ones. However, if you don’t know anyone in the area, arrive any time before the fireworks and the Lantern Festival — you don’t want to miss either of those!
Bear in mind that the Taiwanese are family-oriented people, so many of the smaller shops and businesses will be closed for much of the Spring Festival. However, the night markets and major shopping centers should still be open, as will most restaurants. Because many of the country’s residents will be with family, use the period as a time to explore the cities and sites.
This time of year is very windy in Taiwan. Bring a thick jacket and plenty of sweaters to stay warm.
How Do You Get Around?
The first three days of the Spring Festival are quiet, with few businesses or shops open. However, you will still be able to use the public transportation systems, which include both the high-speed rail and the regular rail. If you use the regular trains, purchase tickets ahead of time to reserve a seat, otherwise you may be forced to stand for the duration of your ride. You can also use the bus system and the MRT metro, among other modes of transportation.
Be prepared to experience a bit of a language barrier during your travels. The official language of Taiwan is Mandarin, but the majority of residents speak Taiwanese Hokkien. If you speak neither, you may find it difficult to communicate with anyone who works outside of the hospitality industry. That said, people may not be able to understand you, but for the most part, they’re friendly to tourists.
How Can You Experience the Lantern Festival?
The Lantern Festival is the grand finale of the Chinese New Year, and to gain the full experience, it’s important that you know where to be and when. In 2020, the festival will be held in Shifen of the Pingxi District, which is about one hour east of Taipei. If you’re flying in just for the festival, fly into the Tayouan Taipei international airport. However, if you’re in the country already, you can get there by means of the HSR trains.
Once there, go to the main stage, which showcases the mass ascension of lanterns every 20 to 30 minutes. You can register for free to participate by signing up as early as possible. Signups begin at 10 a.m.
After you sign up, purchase a paper lantern to decorate and release. The majority of vendors will be selling them and have calligraphy brushes and ink on hand for you to paint on your own design. Include your zodiac sign, blessings and wishes for luck into the new year.
Don’t forget to indulge in the Taiwanese delicacies while at the festival, such as grilled sausages, soup dumplings, warm bowls of noodles and pork buns. You will also find high mountain oolong tea everywhere, which will keep you warm.
Finally, just have fun. Shop around while lanterns take off all around you, and enjoy the other activities of the market.
Though the Chinese New Year is right around the corner, you still have time to plan. Purchase your skyhours to begin budgeting for your trip today.