Lunar New Year, or sometimes known as Chinese New Year, is the annual celebration where family members chat and share lives with each other, enjoying the feel of surrounded by family. Because it's not technically the one day holiday such as Thanksgiving and Christmas that you'd typically see in the western society, Lunar New Year celebration is close to a month worth of celebrating. Even though technically there's only one New Year. In the articles last week we introduced the list of events and holidays within the Lunar New Year celebration; however with the list being so long and complicated, lantern festival was mentioned but not explained in depth.
Photo by Ting W. Chang. CC:BY-SA
It's the holiday that traditionally marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebration, where families return to their normal life, but today it's the end of the vacation that Taiwanese people get nationwide. At this modern era where there's less of a re-union feeling, lantern festival often becomes the only day that people get together because of the various activities that happen on this day. From the traditional lantern exhibition, eating rice balls, and sneaking out with your boyfriend/girlfriend to the modified celebration of sky lantern, getting bombed with beehive crackers, and watching beautiful lanterns and solve the riddles of somewhat nonsense.
The crazy packed timing and activities of Lunar New Year celebration is time and energy consuming for most of the tourists. Having to eat and dress and say things to people in a certain way is one of the challenges in having a "proper" New Year etiquette. Lantern Festival situated at the end of the Lunar New Year series, is the transition point where the old to new transitioning process is over and also the first full moon of the year has appeared to light everyone up to a brighter future. Some of the traditional activities that you might do with either a younger crowd like your baby cousins or a older crowd like your grandparents are as follows:
For those who are after the beautiful lanterns, every year the Taiwanese government and city governments will hold different lanterns festival showcasing their lanterns and the animal of this lunar year:
- 2016 Taipei Lantern Festival
- Where: Taipei Expo Park, Zhongshan N. Rd. Sec.2~3
- 2016 Taiwan Lantern Festival Celebrations
- Place：THSR Taoyuan Station Area
- 2016 Kaohsiung Lantern Festival
- Place: East and west banks of Love River
These three lantern festival celebrations are the major ones that you'd see in Taiwan. Even though the local government will still hold celebrations on a smaller scales, it's more fun and safer for tourists to visit the ones listed above since it will be easier for you to navigate around as well. This year is the year of monkey so be prepared to experience some creatively designed monkey showing up on these occasions. Because there's only 12 animals in the Lunar Year rotation but more than 12 years for everyone to celebrate, the same animal would rarely show up twice in the same look after 12 years.
For the foodies and travelers that experience a culture through food, eating tanyuan(rice balls) with the family is a traditional to farewell the New Year Celebration and hoping for the next reunion. Because of its rounded shape and often sweeten filling, the implied meaning is that the entire family can be united as a ball and be sweet and blessing about each other. There are a variety of tanyuans on the market today for everyone to enjoy, from the traditional sesame and peanut flavor to the innovative animal shape or strawberry flavor filling.
Now the traditional activities are introduced, we're also going to bring you the activities more popular among the younger adult crowd. These activities add more thrills to the traditional and restrictive holidays, but also be cautious of your own safety since these activities might involve a little more dangerous elements such as getting bombed inches away from beehive firecrackers.
Taiwan has a saying that "North has Sky Lanterns and South has Beehive Crackers", used to describe the different iconic events of Lantern festival celebrations commonly seen. With the different scales and varieties of celebration, we list out some of the most famous ones that you must try.
Tainan Yanshui Beehive Firecrackers
The beehive firecrackers celebration in Tainan is known worldwide and has been recognized as the Top 10 World's Best Festivals by Australian magazine Get lost. It was originated because of the plague that was going around the Yanshui area, and so the locals were asking the deity to come around the streets with firecrackers hoping to scare away the plagues and give people their lives back. The miracle and storytelling part is that the deadly plague was actually gone after the event. Preparations are required when visiting such activity. It's going to be a chaotic scene if you decide to stand on the frontline and face the firecrackers directly. Even the brave ones are equipped with motorcycle helmets and fireproof clothing in case of any casualties on the scene when hundreds of firecrackers all go off at once and can't find yourself in the cloud of smokes.
Most of the stores or stands at the scene sell motorcycle helmets or essentials that you'll need to witness this awesome festival without battle scars on your skin. But considering the price, we'd still recommend you to purchase the gears early. Some of the basic gears include gloves, thick raincoats, close toe shoes, and helmets. It's a traditional activity with its own historic meaning, while adding modern touches to it in terms of building different stands for the firecrackers, turning the event into a bigger night market/celebrations. For detailed information on this year's beehive crackers click here .
TaiTung Bombing the HunDan with Firecrackers
The deity Hundan was one of the deities that protected the locals when Taiwan was a developing country and disasters such as plagues and floods were common among people. It used to say that the deity was a "black society bad guy" before he was summoned to be the protector of the region, so during the lantern festival, he would stand on the sedan chair with only a pair of red shorts to accept people throwing firecrackers at him to wash away his sin and signify his transformation in becoming the deity. It's now a popular activity for young men to sign up to be Hundan of the year and there's even training camps for those who want to be up there.
This activity used to be semi-exclusive to the people in the mafias, but ever since the government raised concerns of this activity in terms of public safety bombing the HunDan has become a pure celebration activity. It's an interesting activity to see how Taiwanese people worship and interact with the deities. It's a symbolic activity that reminds the Taiwanese people of how hard their ancestors fought to survive for the future generations to have a stable life. For detailed information on this year's festival and the temple that's in charge of it please click here . Be aware that Google Translate might be your friend this time for the link above.
The scene of sky lantersn is phenominal, but remember the ecological effect of these lovely lanterns.Photo by Jirka Matousek. CC:BY-SA
Pingxi Sky Lanterns
With the beehive crackers so popular in the Southern Taiwan, it's no doubt that the Northern Taiwan's gotta have our own celebrations as well. The celebration at Pingxi has been rated by the Discovery Channel to the world's second best festivals in the world. PIngxi used to an area with various chaos, and the young men who protects the village will always use lanterns to let the women and children who hide in the mountain when it's time to come out. Now the meaning behind this activity has been transformed and people come from all over the world to come and write their wishes on the lanterns before letting it go into the sky and let whoever up there know their thoughts.
There's recently been concerns and studies that raise the fact of sky lanterns endangering the local bird's lives and will often burn them alive or fall on them when the lantern is falling off. There's also a Pingxi Old Street around the area where souvenirs are sold and histories are preserved for tourists to experience the history. So in case you want to see the history and feel the cultural importance of sky lanterns, it'll be a better choice than lighting up more sky lanterns and hurting other animals while celebrating our own happiness. For detailed informations on the festival please click here .
- 2016 Pinxi Sky Lanterns: 2/11-2/22
- 2/11: JingTong Elementary School
- 2/14: Pingxi Middle School
- 2/22: Shifen Square
Now if you're still uninterested in the different activities of the Lantern Festival, then we need to talk.