2023, Lunar New Year, A stroll through Xinyi

Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Taiwan (and China). After we have missed the festive days in the last two years, we were looking forward to be in town this year. Considering how bombastic the fireworks were already at the “wrong” New Year’s Eve, what might await us at the “right” holiday?

Yet, to our surprise, when asking around how to best spend the holidays, “taking vacations outside Taipei” was high up the list. Despite its name, Lunar New Year can best be compared with the European Christmas days. At work, organizations send greeting cards (with everyone dressing in red) and employees receive red envelopes with a (sometimes symbolic, sometimes significant) donation. The family owns the days – to such a degree that many shops and restaurants close this one time during the year. (Some people we asked were honestly concerned we might stay hungry over the days.)

In traditional families, there is a clearly defined order in which certain parts of the family – the father’s parents, the mother’s parents – are visited. There are various religious rituals, to which every family adds their own blend of traditions. Overall though, cooking, eating, chatting, laughing – and discussing politics, of course – probably make the main pastimes.

Thus, for us as visiting foreigners, the holidays themselves were rather quite, without big festivals or fireworks. (We mostly missed the local gatherings at the temple or “lion dances”, which mostly stay within the communities.) It was nonetheless fascinating to be around this time of the year. With each week towards the holidays, homes, offices, and public places became more and more decorated with red lanterns, red talismans or just Red Anything. During the holidays then, the pulse of the city slowed down, and the daily rush made place for a festive atmosphere.

But there is – to the European – also a certain comic element to the festivities: Each year stands under the sign of one zodiac animal – and it is utterly impossible to miss it. Hence, this year’s rabbits smiled, waved, winked, ran, and hid on public places, in shop windows, and from greeting cards. (You can find examples of this more commercial side of the holidays here.)

The pictures below are from a few strolls around Taipei 101 from my way to work. Traditionally, the Lunar New Year festivities end with the lantern festival, the biggest of which is organized by the Tourism Bureau and is hosted by a different city in Taiwan each year. (Click here for photos from this year’s festival in Taipei.)