As an American on assignment in Southern Taiwan, I was blessed to have my first genuine “Lunar New Year” experience in an area of the world that still holds ancient Chinese traditions sacred. There are many details in the preparation of the experience, with much thought and cultural history behind even the smallest of details. The focus of the traditions is to get rid of bad luck, and to allow good luck and fortune to bless one’s life. Activities are intense preparing for the 2-week holiday, which concludes with the Lantern Festival.
I witnessed just about every household preparing the Lunar New Year’s Eve feast and placing food tables in front of their homes to honor the spirits and receive their blessing. Decorative Chinese couplets (sayings) were hung upside down near the front door to welcome the coming good fortune. Families reunited to feast and celebrate the coming new year. Red envelopes (Hóng Bāo) with lucky money inside were given by parents, grandparents and relatives to the children. Larger monetary gifts were provided to parents by working adults. The spirit of giving and blessing families with good fortune is evident everywhere.
On Lunar New Year’s Day, many families enjoyed their time together in different ways. I was fortunate to visit one of the most hallowed places in Taiwan, Taitian Temple of Nan Kun Shen, which was established in 1662 AD. I saw and experienced traditions that were practiced there for centuries. This famous temple complex is located in Beimen Township, Tainan County in the southern part of Taiwan.
Approaching the temple complex, one can’t help but to be overwhelmed by the intricate beauty and color of the buildings. The surrounding grounds and gardens also encourage visitors to experience peace and reflection. Upon entering the front gate, I experienced the first tradition that thousands of followers and tourists enjoyed.
For a donation of NT 100 (US $3) I was given ghost money, a red charm necklace, and directed to stand in line to cross a bridge of good fortune. Standing over the bridge was a giant centipede, the local guardian. After I passed through the bridge, and paid respects to the deities within, I received blessings for the new year. Once through the bridge, two temple representatives passed a holy chair (seat of the deity) over my head and ghost money to bestow more blessings. Finally, I was shown the way to an incinerator to burn my ghost money to send to the spirits as blessings to them.
A tour through the expansive temple revealed many rooms and halls with relief sculptures telling ancient Taoist stories. The air was thick with the smell of incense, and chants and prayers of visitors were reverberating. With incense in hand, entire families bowed in unison three times in front of deities and made their wishes. I wished for blessings for my family, peace for more people in the world and a prosperous new year.
Feeling well-blessed and peaceful, it was fitting to stroll through the outdoor gardens and pavilions to reflect on the blessings I already had in my life. I was truly blessed to have this experience of Lunar New Year, with its ancient traditions and focus on family, and have the ability to share it with others.