I was so lucky that my arrival in Taiwan coincided with the Lunar New Year Celebrations ushering in the year of the Monkey. Everything just kind of fell together, as often the best experiences usually do. It was truly something I’ll never forget.
There are 15 days of celebrations beginning on the lead up to the exact day of the Lunar New Year (New Moon) and culminating in the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the lunar cycle (Full Moon), which marks the end of the celebrations and formally begins the New Year.
While I’ll run down the 15 days of the New Year, I decided the Taiwan Lantern Festival, which was the highlight of the celebrations for me, deserved it’s own post. Check it out here.
In the days leading up to the Lunar New Year, there were plenty of red envelopes floating around. Doorfronts were also decorated in the lucky color red, with plenty of lanterns whose light is said to drive away bad luck.
Typical doorfront decorations
Door to my own building
Lanterns at Taipei 101
Even the Taipei Airport was all dressed up for the holiday
Then on the night before the Lunar New Year (or New Years Eve), everything shut down by 5 pm and Taipei turned into a complete ghost town.
Stores closed down early for New Year
Even Uniqlo is closed!
I’d never seen Taipei, or any city for that matter, that deserted. In total, I only saw a handful of people roaming the streets over the several hours I’d wandered around. Imagine that in a large international city! It was actually really cool to see.
That is until after midnight, when firecrackers began going off nonstop, and lasted well into the next day. I’m not talking sporadic firecrackers, either. These suckers were going off every 2 minutes (or less) for hours and hours and hours on end.
I read somewhere that the official purpose of the firecrackers is to scare away evil spirits. Well, they sure scared me.
I think what interested/shocked me the most was the proximity of the firecrackers to everything else. I guess whenever I’ve seen something similar before this, it was from somewhat of a distance. Back in the late 80’s when it wasn’t considered child neglect to allow your children to play with firecrackers, my cousins and I would set them off on the 4th of July and we at least took into account what was flammable in our immediate surrounding area while making some sort of attempt to avoid that. Meanwhile in 2016 in Taipei, there are firecrackers going off ’round the clock right there in the middle of the streets, extremely close to both pedestrians and loads of flammable materials.
All of the offices in Taipei, including the above and below, had a little ceremony before opening back up, complete with firecrackers, offerings to the Gods and a little fire to burn wishes for the coming year.
Especially for a foreigner like myself, walking down the street and having a barrage of firecrackers going off unexpectedly in front of shop stores was a little scary. Add to that the plumes of smoke down each alleyway. If it wasn’t for all the smiling and clapping people, it could’ve been mistaken for a war zone.
To sum things up, Lunar New Year in Taipei is everything a firefighter has nightmares about.
Besides firecrackers, I visited several temples throughout the course of the New Year celebrations. While obviously I wasn’t really familiar with the prayers or the customs, it was such a beautiful thing to witness. There is power in groups, and therefore group prayer can be particularly powerful.
All types of items were placed on tables at the temples as offerings to the Gods including, but not limited to: fruits like oranges and apples, cookies, ramen and other noodles, juices, dough….and the list goes on and on.
I had a wonderful and very fulfilling first time celebrating Chinese New Year in Asia. Here’s a brief recap of what I learned:
- The Lunar New Year celebrations are a much bigger deal here than I imagined. Basically a whole continent shuts down for two weeks.
- Fire codes and safety are taken very lightly.
- I need to be better prepared for firecrackers.
There’s such a sense of wonder that comes along with experiencing a local holiday somewhere new for the first time. While customs and traditions can vary so much with different cultures, you come to realize at the core they all share the same components: family, food, community and reflection. Holidays are when the best facets of humanity can emerge.
I’m now inspired to include more festivals and worldwide holidays in my travels. Do you have any recommendations for me? Please share in the comments below!
Last but not least, I wish each of you a joyful, lucky and bountiful year of the Monkey!