Genuine cultural exchange is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching students from other cultures. This year, students have about 3 weeks off from school for Chinese New Year, and some of our junior high students recently shared some of their personal traditions for this special holiday.
New Year’s Eve
Similar to New Year’s Eve celebrations in America, Taiwanese families have a great midnight celebration. One student explained, “ the later you stay up on the first day of the year, the longer your parents will live.” Some are fortunate enough to witness the magnificent fireworks display at Taipei 101. Others may enjoy fireworks at home with their families while they reminisce about the past year.
New Year’s Day
After staying up into the early morning hours and eating a large traditional meal, the first day of the new year is one of rest and relaxation for Taiwanese families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins gather together on New Year’s Day to enjoy the company of one another, and to exchange the ubiquitous red envelopes . From their elders, children receive small amounts of money in these red envelopes, which symbolize luck, peace and safety in the new year.
During the holiday season, families gamble with pocket change: Taiwanese coins worth anywhere from pennies up to about $1.50 (USD). Card games like poker and dice games are a favorite, along with mahjong, an old Chinese game of strategy. Many people look forward to winning money from their family members.
Many Taiwanese families travel due to the long break. Some travel to the warmer southern cities of Tainan, Kenting and Kaohsiung to visit family and enjoy traditional food. One student will take a bike ride in the mountains of Pingtung, and another looks forward to the beautiful scenery of Yilan. But not all families stay on the island for the holiday. Many travel to other countries nearby, like Thailand, Korea, Myanmar and Guam. A popular destination is Japan, where families can have a fun, snowy holiday. Some students will even travel as far as Israel and America.
A reunion dinner brings Taiwanese families together for the holiday. Many families eat hot pot: fresh vegetables and meat cooked in a delicious broth. Other families enjoy fish and rice cakes, which are considered lucky for the new year. Dumplings are often eaten just after midnight. One student will partake in the custom of wrapping a coin inside a dumpling. As the family eats the dumplings, whoever finds the coin inside is said to be the luckiest for the new year.
Some families take part in religious ceremonies during the Chinese New Year. They visit temples to offer food and to burn sticks of incense and paper money in order to honor their ancestors and bring good fortune in the new year. Some people sweep tombs, which involves cleaning the graves of family members.
While Taiwanese families celebrate with rich customs and traditions, many students most enjoy the modern comforts during the Chinese New Year break. Playing video and computer games, shopping with friends, and watching movies and sports are some of the students’ favorite activities. The Taiwanese are a hard-working people even from a young age, so many students just look forward to relaxing and having a break from school.