Lunar New Year recently passed, and I wanted to share with the world how profoundly meaningful it was to a significant portion of the world population. It is more than just a vacation, and with roots going back thousands of years, there are many interesting and colorful traditions involved. It is a time for families to have a reunion, no matter where they are or how busy their lives are, to pay respects to the foundation of family. It is an auspicious time to share blessings and attract more good fortune. Reading through the essays from my students, I learned quite a bit.
Here is a summary:
1) The Lunar New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, which is different the the Roman calendar used by most of the world. Because it coincides with the moon cycles, the holiday falls on a different day each year, usually at the end of January or beginning of February.
2) There are 14 days of this holiday, beginning with the New Year’s Day and concluding with the Lantern Festivals. The days in between has some significance and different customs. The students and businesses usually get a week or two weeks off.
3) Some of the customs of Lunar New Year trace their origins thousands of years to a folk tale of a monster named “Nien.” He terrorized villages, eating livestock and people. An old, wise man saved the day when he discovered that Nien was afraid of loud noises and the color red. Since then, people have pasted red on their homes, and set off firecrackers.
4) Before the Lunar New Year’s Day, people work tirelessly to clean their homes, sweeping out all of the bad luck of the prior year. People also go shopping for new clothes, and food for the reunion feasts.
5) On Lunar New Year’s Eve, the family joins together for a “Reunion” Feast. There is much significance and meanings behind the many foods they eat during this meal. They sit around a round table, with the circle symbolizing “eternal wholeness.” They catch up on the lives of the relatives, many of whom they haven’t seen for a year. Family bonds are strengthened by these annual gatherings.
6) Children stay up as late as they can after midnight Lunar New Year’s Day as a tradition to bless their parents with long life. The later they can stay up, the longer their parents will live.
7) The elder members of the family give red envelopes with money inside to bless the children and young family members who can not yet earn an income. The children often sleep with the red envelopes under their pillows to become blessed for the year. They often have to return most, if not all, of the money to their own parents to save it for them, and to pay for school expenses.
8 ) On the first day of the new year, families often go to the temples to pray for good luck and to honor their ancestors. Many temples have races, giving prizes to people who are the first to place a lighted incense stick into the main urn. It is often a dangerous custom, with many people running, shoving and pushing to be first.
9) On the second day of the new year, married women return to their own parents’ homes to have a family reunion. There is more feasting and bonding.
10) The few days after this, many families take advantage of the time off to go on short vacations. It is usually the busiest and most expensive time to travel in Asia.
11) On the 14th day of the new year, the Lantern Festival takes center stage. There are many beautiful lanterns on display in Taiwan, and the national festival this year was held in Miaoli. Also, during this time, people can write blessings on sky lanterns, and let them drift up into the night sky to reach the heavens. It is a beautiful site to see hundreds or thousands of these shining lanterns floats gently into the sky.
At Kang Ming Senior High in Sigang, Tainan, Taiwan, students competed in an English Essay Contest on Lunar New Year to share their experiences with the rest of the world. The top essay was written by Erica in 11th grade.
This is her essay:
When a foreigner walks down the street during Lunar New Year, they witness people celebrating and truly satisfied because of the “Lunar New Year” holiday. They may hear the firecrackers and see the couplets on the walls, but what they might not comprehend is the true spirit that lies behind these material things and why Lunar New Year is important to me and all Taiwanese people.
Foreigners see the couplets without understanding them. The written words are not only auspicious, but also have rhetorical flavor. One particular thing about couplets is that some single letters are put upside-down. The word “upside-down” has similar pronunciation as “coming here” in Chinese. Thus, couplets represent good fortune is going to “come here.”
The giving of red envelopes is another distinguished tradition. The fiery red envelopes with perfumed fragrances generate smiling faces on every child. Red envelopes are given out to children by elders in the family, as a token of good luck for the new year.
Everyone, regardless of where they are, returns home. It is a time I can avoid stress and enjoy the harmonious atmosphere. My family and I always gather together for a dinner on New Year Eve. The centerpiece of the dinner is usually a hot pot. We take our seats around the Chinese round table, and share something intriguing stories along with wishes for the new year. It gives me power to work harder the upcoming year. To me, it is a time I can regain a balance between schoolwork and leisure. Every one feels warm not only because of the simmering soup in the hot pot, but also out of the concern of the whole family.
The Lunar New Year marks a conclusion of one year, and gives us a fresh start. My parents always tell me to introspect over the last year. It is an opportunity to abandon our bad habits and turn over a new leaf.
I still remember my grandfather telling me, “Taiwan used to be an agricultural society, and everything is provided by the land. Lunar New Year is a chance to show your gratitude, and the spirit of nation is passed down through this holiday. You must bear in mind and embrace these virtues even in the modern times.”
After hearing this, Lunar New Year became even more significant to me. It holds for me my wishes, family expectations, and the inheritance of culture.
“Lunar New Year”, with all of its wonderful tradition, helps us remember the past while anticipating the future. It ushers me, and all of Taiwan together, into a brand new year with all these cherished customs and hopes.
You can read the essays from more students and learn from individual experiences and customs.