Thursday, 3 February 2011

Happy Chinese New Year!!

Chinese New Year Lanterns
Credit Here
Living in Taiwan has extended my festive season. It used to start at the beginning of December and last until early January. Now it lasts right through to the middle of February. It's brilliant! I get two sets of time off work and a double whammy of fun times.

Talking to my Taiwanese friends here has revealed interesting differences in points of view about Christmas, New Years and Chinese New Years. Christmas for me (being of British and Kiwi extraction) is all about getting together with your family, eating stupid amounts of food, relaxing and doing large amounts of nothing at all. Christmas for my Taiwanese friends is more of a romantic holiday - time to take someone special out for a nice meal. The same goes for my Japanese sister-in-law. Christmas is all about the lurve.

Compare this with my concept of New Years (not Chinese) which basically revolves around friends and fun times with varying amounts of celebratory vino (less and less as I get closer to being of a respectable age) and of course a massive countdown to midnight followed by epic fireworks. In Taiwan, this is pretty much how it goes down, but in Japan it's different - there it's a family celebration, and time, I understand, to go along to the temple and pray for good fortune.

Now we come to Chinese New Year - what I've come to think of as Chinese culture's answer to a Western Christmas. It's whole family together time, with much eating and merry-making. The gift of choice for younger family members are the coveted 'hong-bao' (red envelopes containing money) and almost every dish on the table has some significance. I'm no expert and this isn't intended to be a serious anthropological piece but I can tell you this: At midnight when we are celebrating new year with my parents in law, we are served a massive plate of steaming water dumplings. These dumplings are significant because they look like little money bags and so eating them is thought to bring prosperity. But here's the catch - you can't keep count of how many you're eating, or else you will limit the amount of money that you will get in that year. Of course, once I was told this all I could hear in my head as I ate them was "One.... two... STOP IT!..... three.....four...."!

Chinese New Year dinner 2009
Credit: Kathryn Liu 2009
This year, as my parents in law are in NZ, bro and sis in law are in Japan and hubby is working I was going to be on my lonesome for Chinese New Year but one of the families I have become close to here in Taipei weren't having any of that and I was adopted for the night. Of course, other family relations had invited me to come celebrate with them but it would have been an overnight trip, leaving the doggy all on his lonesome. I had a lovely time, ate a lot of very tasty food, had a laugh and avoided singing karaoke. I'm now back at home and contemplating the end of the Year of the Tiger and the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit whilst simultaneously worrying about my best friend who is bunkered down in Cairns, QLD waiting for the biggest cyclone in Australia's recent history to pass over. (It occurred to me how much the culture of my current home must be seeping into my psyche when I caught myself thinking that it was the Year of the Tiger going out with a roar). I've been basically glued to Twitter updates and online news coverage for the last 24 hours - dinner excepted - and just hope fervently that they're OK and nothing dramatic is happening to them.

As for me, my Chinese new year's eve is drawing to a close. I'm snuggled up on the couch with a snoring doggy by my side, a full tummy and the dulcet tones of half of my neighbourhood setting off what seems to be all of the gunpowder products on this side of the Taiwan Strait in the park behind my apartment building. I hope that the Year of the Rabbit is a peaceful, happy, healthy and prosperous time for all of you.


  1. When my kids were little my parents used to give each of them hung-bao for Chinese New Year. We're not Chinese but they thought it made for a great lesson in another culture + another way to spoil the grandchildren!

  2. Lisa - Thanks for the comment. Wow, really? How cool is that! Another step towards a beautifully multi-cultural and tolerant world. I love it!

  3. I'm glad you were adopted for the night. Happy year of the rabbit!

  4. Cahleen - Me too! Chinese New Year by yourself isn't much fun! Hope you have a great Year of the Rabbit! :)