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Festivals, Celebrations & Holidays

 


Chinese New Year (public holiday):


Just like Christmas, Chinese New Year celebration also includes lots of candy eatingBased on astronomical observations, the Chinese developed a lunar calendar of 12 moons. The Chinese word for month is yue (moon). Because the traditional ‘farmer's’ calendar (nung li) is based on the lunar cycle, the dates of some holidays vary every year.

Chinese New Year falls somewhere between mid-January and mid-February each year. IT usually involves about a week of public holiday. Most businesses close during this time, and most Taiwanese return to their home-towns to be with their family for celebrations. This means that the big cities, especially Taipei, get noticeably quieter during this time. Common activities include giving money in red envelopes (hong bao紅包), visiting relatives, large banquet dinners, eating New Year cake, praying for ancestors, setting off fireworks and playing Mahjong or cards.

One week before the New Year, everyone cleans out their homes and often replace furniture and/or appliances. The Chinese believe that cleaning before the New Year cleans out the previous year’s bad luck so you only carry good luck into New Year. Often people will leave last year’s furniture on the street so this is a really good time to pick up many household items, appliances and furniture for free by taking a walk around your neighborhood!


Lantern Festival:


On the 15th day of the first lunar month of each year traditional lanterns are carried throughout the streets, and eating sticky Yuan Hsiao (tang yuan) and guessing lantern riddles are common celebration activities. Many cities have special parades, fire-works and central displays of handmade lanterns of all shapes and sizes. Depending on the year you will see many lanterns shaped accordingly (e.g. in the year of the dog there, thousands of dog shaped lanterns will prevail)

Pingshishan in Taipei County has a special display of sky lanterns (kong ming lanterns). People inscribe their wishes or blessings on the lanterns and send them off into the night sky. The closest MRT station is Mucha Zoo on the brown line, and during the festival special buses run from the station to Pingshi. To find out more, have a Chinese speaker call the Pingshi Village Office for information, on (02) 2495-1510. Pingshi Village: 平溪天燈


2-28 Peace Memorial Day (public holiday):


February 28th commemorates the events of February 28, 1947, when thousands of Taiwanese people were massacred by troops as a result of political dissent against the unelected ruling Kuomintang political regime. The 2-28 (meaning Feb 28) Peace Park 228 和平紀念公園, close to the presidential palace and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, commemorates the massacre and civil unrest that followed.


Matzu’s Birthday:


On 23rd day of the 3rd lunar month (usually April), Taoist festivals in temples island-wide celebrate Matzu with parades, traditional dances, folk arts, martial arts, fireworks, and lively music with gongs, drums, and pipes. There are about 400 temples in Taiwan dedicated to Matzu.

Certainly the most famous temple for the Matzu Festival is the temple in Da Jia 大甲, north of Taichung City, where there is a huge pilgrimage and many activities over a period of weeks.

Other famous temples hosting Matzu celebrations include the Guandu temple 關渡宮, located by the eastern base of the Guandu Bridge between Beitou and Danshui in Taipei, and the temples in Chiayi County and Beikang City.


Tomb Sweeping Day (public holiday):


Usually the first week in April, this is a day for worshipping ancestors, and most people will visit the graves of their family to spend a few hours cleaning the area, placing flowers on the tomb and burning some ghost money (fake money for their ancestors’ use in the afterlife).


Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha’s) Birthday:


On the 8th day of the 4th month of the lunar year (April/May) Lantern lighting and the Cleansing Buddha Festivals are held. Try visiting the following places: Longshan Temple 龍山寺 (Taipei) or Nungchan Temple 農禪寺 (Beitou)


Dragon Boat Festival (public holiday):


On the fifth day if the fifth lunar month, festivities and dragon boat races held around the island. The traditional food for this day is rice dumplings wrapped in leaves (zhong zhi 粽子), which are associated with the legend of the beginnings of Dragon Boat festival. In short, a dissident poet was called unpatriotic, so he drowned himself and his followers rowed up and down the river he drowned in feeding the fish so they wouldn't eat his body. This led to the two main traditions of Dragon Boat Festival, rowing races and eating special dumplings.

Keelung offers one of the largest and most popular races. Other major races are held in Taipei at the Dazhi Water Park 大直河濱公園, Hsintien, Luodong, Taichung and Kaohsiung, with smaller races held island wide.

Many companies, including mine, enter teams into the races, and there are a lot of private teams too. It is truly a great experience to be involved in a team, and something you can definitely share with friends and family as a unique experience in Asia. Dragon boats can be hired for the events from the event organizers. Follow this link to check out a 2 minute film I made about our team in the races this year.


Ghost Month:


On the 7th month of the lunar calendar (August/ September), families and businesses prepare daily offerings of food and drink and burn ghost money for their ancestors, as part of the Ghost Month celebrations.

The midpoint of the month is the best day to witness the activity. Huge banquet tables offering meats, fish, vegetables and alcohol are set out in temple areas and often in front of businesses and family homes. The temples are full of worshippers. Lanterns on tall bamboo poles lining the streets or water lanterns help lost spirits find their way to the banquet. Taiwanese operas are performed to entertain the spirits while they dine.

The Chung Yuan Festival 中元節 in Keelung is one of the most popular places to visit for ghost month festivities. It falls on the 15th day of ghost month.

There is also the famous “Grappling with the Ghosts” event in Toucheng 頭城, in Ilan County 宜蘭縣 on Taiwan’s north-east coast, where the young men compete to climb greased wooden poles to capture flags for prizes.

This usually takes place in the last three days of Ghost Month, but while the construction can be seen early in the month, the exact day of the event is not usually made public until a few days beforehand.


Lover’s Day 七夕情人節(Chinese Valentine’s Day):


Traditionally on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar year, this day being the only one where two stars are in the night sky at the same time and legend has it they are the souls of forlorn lovers. Originally nothing more than this tale being retold, perhaps creating a romantic atmosphere helping the teller to get some, happened on this day. But I met one of the guys who about thirty years ago was in a team of marketers who commercialized the day in the western model for the benefit of flower and chocolate companies. Now, local couples will go out for the evening – to dinner, a pub, disco or a theatre to celebrate. Parks, rivers, mountain areas are often crowded with couples trying to find some time alone – especially Love River, running through the heart of Kaohsiung City.


Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival / public holiday):


On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year (September/October) festivities are held around the island to celebrate Moon Festival. Moon gazing is a popular pastime and many locals can be found out in parks or up in the mountains for a clear view of the full moon.

The traditional food of this period is the moon cake 月餅, a small “cake” along the same kind of lines as a Christmas tart. There are a huge variety of designs, shapes and fillings to try – one of the fun things about this holiday is trying as many as you can to find out which ones you like. But be warned, some of them might have quite offensive ingredients so taste them attentively within spitting distance of a rubbish bin.

Moon festival also features pomelos (citrus fruit - you might see some people wearing pomelo skins on their head - it brings good luck and makes you look stupid at the same time), street BBQ’s, family reunions, and lots of fireworks.


Birthday of Confucius (Teacher’s Day):


September 28th is the birthday of Confucius, regarded as the greatest Chinese philosopher and teacher, who lived from 551-479BC. His ideas still strongly influence Chinese culture. Teachers are also honored on this day, and if you're a teacher it is not unusual for your students to give you a card or a small present to say ‘thanks’ (you're not obliged to give them better grades for this, either). Ceremonies will often be held in Confucian temples on this day.


Taiwan National Day (Double Ten Day / public holiday):


October 10th celebrates the uprising in Mainland China in 1911, which overthrew the Qing dynasty and the imperial system and allowed the formation of the Republic of China (R.O.C.). Celebrations are held all over Taiwan, like 4th of July days in the US or national day holidays in any other country. Taiwan still counts its years as starting from 1911 so for example the year in 2006 is counted as 95.


Chiang Kai Shek’s Birthday:


October 31st is Taiwan’s most famous ruler, Chiang Kai Shek’s birthday. He is also known by his Chinese name, Zhong Zheng. There is a beautiful memorial in Taipei dedicated to his memory (see the Must-See Sights of Taiwan section for more details of this memorial). Kaohsiung has named a large park and lake after him, with beautiful scenery, an aquarium and bike paths.


Sun Yat Sen’s Birthday:


Novermber 12th is Sun Yat Sen’s (often regarded as the father of this country) birthday. There is a memorial in Taipei near Taipei City Hall dedicated to his memory. Get off the Taipei MRT at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall station (blue line, east of Taipei Main Station) to visit the hall and gardens. It's a good place for a read or chill out and it's pretty close to Taipei 101.


Constitution Day (optional holiday for some foreign teachers):


Constitution day is on December 25th, and most people in Taiwan don’t celebrate this day as Christmas. You will, however, see most of the commercial aspects related to Christmas in November and December. **Schools and other businesses are still operating.

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