Photo by Jennifer. CC:BY-SA.
Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Trees, and New Year Shopping Spree, Lunar New Year rolls around the corner after the so called western holiday season.
It’s no doubt that many of the traditional holidays have been forgotten or transformed into something more profitable for the corporates. However, there should still be some respect paid to these holidays that has such a significant importance as the cultural heritage of our society.
Lunar New Year is a series of holiday that even in today’s culture not widely celebrated as it was perhaps ten years ago. Many of the younger generations take the holiday as a free vacation instead of a day to remember their cultural heritage. It’s also a great way for foreigners to touch the roots of a culture directly when traveling abroad.
The reason that Lunar New Years is a more diversified term is because of the calendar system used in the old days is designed for a farming community and follows the annual cycle of crops. Therefore, instead of ending in December like the standard calendar, the Lunar Calendar ends in February, the coldest time of the year for farmers to rest and nestle for next year’s work.
Here are some of the New Year celebration dates and their customs:
Custom 1: December 16 (Lunar) Year-Ending Banquet
The general practice is to pray and offer sacrificial offerings for the god in charge of your geographical region such as a county or a town and thank their blessings for the year. Companies today will also hold a banquet to thank their employees for a year of hard work and express the continuation of the professional relationship. And for some employees that will no longer continue their professional relationship with the company, the chicken on the banquet table will be pointed toward them to indicate the end.
Customs 2: December 24 (Lunar) Sending the Gods Off to Vacations
This is the day where all different levels of gods return to the sky to report their findings and evaluations of their duties for the entire year. Incense will be burned and sacrificial offerings provided in the morning to let the gods take as treats on the way home, also asking the gods to report on the brighter side of things in front of the Jade Emperor so the family will have better luck next year. After the spirit of the gods are gone, it’s time to clean the hall where the gods usually stay. A year worth of incense and offerings usually require some cleaning, and it’s said that a clean hall awaiting the gods as they come back for the next year can offer a good start for those who worship them.
Custom 3: December 25,26 (Lunar) Let’s Make some New Year Cakes
As the days approach January 1, families will now start making their New Year rice cakes to last through the entire new year celebration. The sweet versions have sponge cakes and sweet rice cakes whereas the no so sweet tooth versions are radish and taro cakes.
Sweet Rice Cakes: The ham on your Christmas dinner table, this type of rice cakes is a necessity on the new year dinner’s table. The sweetness of these rice cakes imply that next year would be a sweet year for those who eat it.
Radish Cakes: February is traditional the month when the radishes are abounded for picking and the amount makes them a popular version of rice cakes for those not craving the sweets. The radish itself as a word in the Taiwanese Hokkien also has the duo meaning of a lucky sign.
Sponge Cakes: These are Sponge cakes that will look like a flower by the time they get out of the steamer. The reason they’re popular and are often gifted to neighbors and friends is because the fermenting process in Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien is synonymous with becoming rich. So it’s the custom to spread this wish of becoming rich with people you have a good relationships with.
Taro Cakes: These are a mixture of taro and sticky rise, traditionally given to younger kids by their grandparents in the meaning to protect their next generations.
photo by ddio, Alpha, Briansjs, and 挪威企鵝. CC:BY-SA
Custom 4: Before the Celebration starts, better stock your fridge.
After sending the gods away, everyone’s off to add something festive for their families no matter their economic condition or way of celebrating for the New Year. It could range from candy, dried fruit or snacks, to New Year Couplets. It’s also the time to clean out the house and get rid of some waste before going out and stocking some more new stuff.
Custom 5: December 31 (Lunar) Family Reunion Around the Fireplace
On New Year’s Eve, the entire family would burn incense to send blessing to their own ancestors and also the house protecting deities to bring luck and award them since they’ve stayed with the family throughout the whole year. The entire extended family reunites today and the younger ones get their red envelopes. In return, the young kids stay up to hope for their elders to have a longer life. The traditional custom is that everyone must stay together in front of the fireplace until the dawn of January 1st to go to bed. Today, many of the people will go to their favorite or the most famous temple to wait for the chance to burn the first incense of the year to the god.
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