Celebrating Chinese New Year in Taiwan was different than celebrating it in other countries. For instance, in Indonesia and the U.S. Chinese New Year often celebrated with a parade; people piling on the streets, confetti, music, lion dances, etc. But here in Taiwan Chinese New Year was a quiet event.
People usually went home to their hometown, but it did not mean that their hometowns would soddenly be overcrowded with home-comers. Instead, people chose to stay in their homes. They’d clean the house and pray. The praying took maybe 2 or 3 days before New Year. First, a table was set in front of the house. On top of the tables were 3 kinds of meat, fruits (orange and pineapple as symbols of wealth), longevity vegetables, and snacks.
the 3 kinds of meat: land (pork sausages), air (chicken) & water (squids). the chicken was only boiled because it was going to be put in the altar for around 6 hours.
On Saturday, February 9th, we celebrated the New Year. Family would gather around the dinner table. This time was only for immediate family members as they would visit other relatives on the third and fourth day. Some families would cook the dinner themselves, some would buy from restaurants. But a must-have dish for Chinese New Year Celebration was Fo Tiao Qiao Tang (佛跳牆湯) which in English literally means “Buddha Jumping Over The Wall Soup”. It was a chicken soup made from the chicken that was previously on the altar, boiled with mushrooms and herbs. Other dishes are crabs, vegetables, mullet roe (a kind of fish egg, very expensive), and sweet and sour fish.
Buddha Jumping Over the Wall Soup. Legend says that the soup was so delicious even Buddha himself would jump over the wall to eat it.
Of course Chinese New Year would not be complete without hongbao (red envelopes). Parents give their children hongbao, unless the children already worked, in that case the children must give hongbao to their parents. The money inside may vary in amount, depending on how important the receiver is to the giver.
The second day of Chinese New Year was the time for praying. People went to temples, according to which one they usually frequented.
Inside the temple was a jumble of people. You first had to take a bag of incense from the temple’s stand. You burn it and you start to pray to the God of Sky in front of the temple. Then you continue to go inside and pray to the temple’s main god, and after that you pray to all of the lesser gods. The air was heavy with smokes, some people even had tears on their eyes because the stinging fumes. People were holding their burning incense way above their heads so the ashes would not bur others. But sometimes you left the temple finding your clothes had many holes from the dropping ashes.
Chinese New Year in Taiwan might be not as festive as I usually experienced back home. But nevertheless it was an intimate experience where one gathered with the family, catching up with each others, and simply enjoying each other presence (for those without sibling rivalry). Usually they are very welcoming toward guests and would generously feed you with delicious food. So you might want to increase your running miles afterward.