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Welcoming the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year (CNY), or: the Spring Festival, starts on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. CNY will always fall between January 21 and February 21: it should be the new Moon closest to the beginning of spring, named lìchūn (立春). How to calculate the date? The tropical (or solar) year is about 365.25 days, while a synodic (or lunar) month is about 29.5 days. Hence a lunar year consisting of 12 months will be about 12 x 29.5 = 354 days. So a lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a solar year. So most of the time, Chinese New Year will fall 11 (or sometimes 10 or 12) days earlier than the previous year. But if this calculation puts CNY out of the range between January 21 and February 21, then a so-called “leap month” will be added, in order to fill the time gap. This is why the Spring Festival moves within the above mentioned time frame. It then lasts for about 23 days, and ends on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

So what do people do during those days? Much like Christmas in the Western hemisphere, CNY is the festival of family reunion, but it also symbolizes the renewal and rebirth for all creatures. Preparations include thorough cleansing of the house, buying a variety of necessary ingredients for special dishes to be cooked, and auspicious home decoration. Praying and sacrifice to the Gods and family ancestors is the most important activity, so on the 1st day of the Lunar New Year, the traditional Taiwanese families will get up early, gather in front of the shrine table, and offer sacrifices. There is a saying that goes: “Sending gods off earlier, welcoming them later.” In the morning on the 24th day of the 12th lunar month, the Stove God (or Kitchen God) Zao Jun is sent off back to heaven, to report every household’s activities of the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, then either rewards or punishes a family. Sacrifices need also be given on Zao Jun’s return on the 4th day of the Lunar New Year.

In Taiwan, traditional customs are very much alive, and can be watched in many places: for example, a series of activities concerned with praying for blessings are conducted in the temples:

  • Chiang Tou Hsiang: Sparking the First Joss Stick (搶頭香),
  • Tien Kuang Ming Teng : Lighting the Lamp for a Bright Future(點光明燈),
  • An Tai Suei: Appeasing the God of Planet Jupiter (安太歲) and
  • Li Dou: Taoist Services to the Goddess of the Big Dipper (禮斗).
  • Other customs include Dragon and Lion Dances performed outside on the streets, the God of Wealth appearing and presenting auspicious signs, and exchanging red envelopes with money inside. Spring Couplets, a conventional calligraphy art, are displayed at the doors, expressing good wishes for Harmony, Fortune, Respect and Peace.

    Chinese Culture University cordially wishes you a most happy, healthy and harmonic New Year of the Goat!

    More information: :

  • National Center for Traditional Arts
  • The Mathematics of the Chinese Calendar
  • The Kitchen God