9 Lunar New Year Customs in Taiwan

A couple traditions for the Spring Festival (Lunar New year or Chinese New Year) include gifting red envelopes and gathering with family. Keep reading to find more practices.

I’ve lived in Taiwan for more than 5 years and have encountered various Lunar New Years. I want to introduce you to some customs that happen on the holiday.

1. Light Firecrackers

Many believe that igniting firecrackers on Lunar New Year’s Eve will drive away spirits and bad luck. Many in Asia used firecrackers to scare away the mythical beast, Nian.

Nian is a beast in Chinese mythology that devoured human flesh. However, it’s scared of loud noises, bright lights, and the color red. Thus, firecrackers act as a perfect weapon to scare away the beast.

image 2
Source: Independent History 独家历史

Red symbolizes happiness, good luck, success, and joy throughout Asia. It’s a common color you’ll see throughout this time of year. Whether adorned along the streets, as decorations in people’s homes, or the clothing folks wear.

2. Spring Cleaning

A month, and before the last day of the end of the new year, the Taiwanese will clean their homes. They’ll wipe down surfaces, clean windows, and clear clutter.

One of the reasons they do this is to make room for good luck incoming in the new year.

3. Gift Red Envelopes

Parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents will gift children red envelopes. Older children and adults will give elders red envelopes. These red envelopes contain “lucky loney.”

Adults gift children around NT$200 or NT$600 to pass wealth on to the younger generation. Younger adults will give their elders around NT$1,200–NT$6,600 as a sign of respect and gratitude for their sacrifices [1].

Actual amounts gifted will vary by family.

If you give someone a red envelope, NEVER give amounts in odd numbers, including the number “4” (e.g., NT$405). People in East Asia, among other countries, believe “4” represents death.

I emphasize superstitions surrounding numerology in a separate guide. Check it out to learn more.

4. Families Get Together & Feast

Most Taiwanese folks will return to their grandparents’ or parents’ homes on New Year’s Eve and day. Families will chat, eat a feast, play Mahjong, and exchange red envelopes during this time.

Source: LEGO.com. I didn’t want to put a picture of my Taiwanese family for their privacy.

Because of this, the Lunar New Year is the holiday with the most human migration. People throughout East Asia made more than 3 billion trips in 2020 [2]. Flight prices will increase around this time. And it’ll present an opportunity to meet new people while stuck in a traffic jam.

5. Replace the Previous Year’s Spring Festival Couplets

People will replace the red couplets on their doors from the previous year. Doing so marks the beginning of a new year.

What are Chinese New Year couplets?

They’re red scrolls with hand-written or printed scrolls that supposedly helps attract good luck into a person’s home. They’ll have poetry or spiritual messages that are usually four characters long.

lunar new year door thing
Lego-themed couplets I got.

6. Visit Temples

Many families will visit Taoist or Buddhist temples on the first day of the New Year. Many will offer flowers representing renewal and pray to the gods for good fortune in the coming year.

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Temple on Dihua Street (Taipei).

Before their prayers, they’ll ignite joss or incense sticks to fill the area with a woody-and herb-like aroma. These burning sticks also help create an auspicious (prosperous) atmosphere.

While here, many will also pay respect to deities and express their gratitude. They’ll place offerings like lotus flowers, boxed foods, and drinks on long tables that extend throughout the temple’s courtyard.

7. See or Host Dragon Dance Performances

Many areas throughout Taiwan will host Dragon Dance performances to entertain visitors. These involve performers thrusting a fabric dragon around the area. This festivity sometimes involves up to 15 aerobatic performers.

I have yet to see this in person. Though, I keep telling myself I will every year.

The fabric dragon ranges from 80 to 100 feet in length. The longer the dragon, the more luck it’ll bring to spectators. If the dragon isn’t super long, don’t worry, it’ll still give you good luck. If you’re watching the performance.

8. Stock up on Cooking Ingredients

Many families flock to new year’s markets to buy dry ingredients for the new year’s feast, red envelopes, streamed buns, and wrapped candies.

The most noteworthy New Year’s Market in Taipei is Dinhua Street. It’s in Taipei’s historical merchant shipping district.

dihua street, taipei
Dihua Street (not during New Year’s).

9. Play Mahjong

Though Taiwanese play mahjong year-round, many will more likely play it around the Spring Festival. It’s a fun way for families to bond. And bet small sums of money.

What is mahjong?

It’s a 4-player tile-based game with the objective of matching pairs and sets. It includes 144 tiles based on Chinese characters. Think of these like playing cards.

If you’re familiar with poker, it’s similar to that.

Here’s a video that’ll explain it better than I could:

What Is the Chinese New Year?

The Lunar New Year is a festival that celebrates transitioning into a new year on the lunisolar and solar Chinese calendar. Usually, Chinese New Years begin around late January or early February.

It lasts for around 23 days. But is typically celebrated as a public holiday for 7 days. Companies in most industries often give employees time off and a new year’s bonus. The amount given from the bonus will vary by company.

Some companies won’t give out bonuses.

Before I continue, the Spring Festival has many names:

  • Lunar New Year
  • Chinese New Year (農曆新年)
  • Seollal (설날): Korea
  • Losar/lo-sgar (ལོ་གསར): Tibet
  • Tet (Tết Nguyên Đán): Vietnam
  • Chunjie
    • Traditional characters: 春節
    • Simplified: 春节

The way each country celebrates Lunar New Year will vary.

And every new year in the represents one of the following 12 animals:

Zodiac AnimalYear It Correlates with (2022+)

Different cultures will interpret what each zodiac symbolizes. For instance, Taiwanese and Chinese believe Dragons symbolize luck, honor, and nobleness. If you’re born in the year of the dragon, you’re lucky.

Sometimes Taiwanese will decorate their homes with kumquat trees. They resemble wealth and good luck.

lunar new year tree
A kumquat tree I found at a flower market.

Food Taiwanese Will Typically Eat During This Holiday

Common foods to eat during the lunar new year in Taiwan include:

FoodSymbolismWhy It’s Symbolic
ApplesSafety & peaceThe word for “apple” is a homophone for peace
MochiEvolutionSymbolizes generational shifts
Tangerine Or Mandarin OrangesGood fortuneMeans “rich fruit” in Mandarin; and “gold” in Cantonese
Whole FishAbundance“Fish” in Mandarin sounds like the word for “wish”
DumplingsProsperityThey look like gold nuggets
Mustard GreensLongevitySymbol for “long life” since you can’t overcook them
Pork Knuckles With VermicelliLongevityThe length of noodles symbolizes one’s life strand
White TurnipGood fortuneOne of the names sounds like “good fortune” in Mandarin
PineapplesGood luckThey’re shaped like lanterns
Foods commonly eaten during the Chinese New Year in Taiwan.

What households eat will vary. Many households may not have any of the dishes I listed.

lunar new year meal 1
Meal the day before Lunar New Year eve.
lunar new year meal 2
Lunar New Year eve meal.