Lunar New Year in Taiwan

A time to visit friends, family, and temples. Or if you don’t have these things, go for a walk…

A temporary stage with six actors in traditional Chinese dress, watched by a crowd of people spread across the intersection.
Street theater a few blocks from my apartment, on the second day of Lunar New Year. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

It’s my first Lunar New Year in Taiwan. Here, it’s widely called Chinese New Year. But because it’s also celebrated in non-Chinese cultures, Lunar New Year is a more inclusive, less Sino-centric term.

My knowledge of LNY traditions is shallow, so please get in touch to correct any misinformation.

Here’s my understanding of a typical schedule for the period:

New Year’s Eve

  • Travel to paternal parents’ or grandparents’ homes for a holiday dinner (broadly comparable to meals for Thanksgiving or Christmas Day)
  • Spend time together at home
  • Light firecrackers to ward off bad spirits and ring in the new year

New Year’s Day (Spring Festival)

  • Make offerings to ancestors and pray to gods
  • Continue with the firecrackers
  • See lion and dragon dances in the streets

Day 2

  • Visit maternal parents or grandparents
  • More firecrackers

Day 3

  • Continue catching up with friends and family
  • Firecrackers

Day 3 is the last day of standard public holidays for LNY, however many businesses will remain closed for the rest of the week.

Lantern Festival

Traditionally this happens on Day 15, but here in Kaohsiung the Lantern Festival starts tomorrow, Day 5 (Thursday 26 January).

The location rotates around various parts of the city, including the harborfront, Love River, and Lotus Pond—which I visited in 2019 but haven’t been to since. I had difficulty finding where it would be in 2023, so on Day 2 I took an evening walk along the river to look for clues.

Here are a few phone pics from my walk:

A nighttime view of one of the lakes at Heart of Love River.
I started at the Heart of Love River—two man-made lakes desiged to hold floodwaters, provide turning space for boats, and support the local ecology. I’d expected to see many people here and/or preparations for Lantern Festival—but clearly neither were on the cards.
The smaller lake at Heart of Love River, at night.
I was standing on a bridge across the smaller lake. It’s a pleasant spot, but I was the only one there.
The smallest bridge at Heart of Love River.
The small bridge I’d just crossed.
The largest bridge at Heart of Love River.
Ahead of me was this sweeping, elevated bridge…
…It climbed up over Bo-Ai 1st Road. The number of lanes suggests it’s usually busier than this. On this bridge, there were three photographers taking long exposures of the traffic. Note the marked area at left, reserved for scooters stopped at the lights.
The pedestrian bridge over Bo-Ai-1st-Road, colored pink at night.
The bridge had turned pink by the time I continued down the other side.
The large lake at Heart of Love River.
This is the head of the larger lake.
Pedestrian bridge over the large lake at Heart of Love River.
To my right was another bridge…
A wide-angle shot of the pedestrian bridge across the large lake at Heart of Love River.
…It was longer than the first, crossing the larger lake.
Signpost that says “Heart of Love River Station”, with Love River in the background.
I saw this marker for “Heart of Love River station”. It appeared to be a dock for tour boats (although none were present).
A pedestrian path next to Love River.
I started walking towards the river mouth, 6km downstream.
A diverging path that leads into the woods next to Love River.
The path diverged, but I stuck to the riverside route because I’m scared of snakes.
An illuminated pylon visible through the trees.
I noticed this illuminated pylon through the trees, so I walked closer (via the long route, because I’m scared of snakes).
The ground was paved in a fan pattern I’d seen in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
A closer view of the illuminated pylon, with two people walking past. It has an illuminated cube around its center, and a spiral staircase at the bottom.
As I got closer, I noticed the pylon had a spiral staircase up the middle.
I climbed the staircase…
A square viewing platform wrapped around the pylon and brightly illuminated with red and white lights.
…To this viewing platform, a few stories up. I was the only one there.
Looking out from the pylon viewing platform. A park is in the foreground, with trees and tall buildings in the distance.
I liked the urban views in all directions.
Looking down the spiral staircase from the top.
I went back down the spiral staircase…
Sculptures of presents and decorations in the foreground, and the current time, temperature, and the words “Happy New Year” illuminated on the side of the pylon.
…And noticed these decorations on the other side of the pylon. It’s hard to see in this photo, but turning back, I saw the pylon was decorated like a present. The current time (19:08:06) and temperature (23ºC) were displayed on the side.
Another view of the gift-wrapped pylon, with a small child standing at the left edge, looking upwards.
The ribbon changed color, which made it easier to see from this angle. Note the child in yellow at left, for scale.
Two children and a parent holding sparklers.
A family was lighting sparklers.
Two lifebuoys hanging next to the river. The water is still, reflecting tall buildings.
Returning to Love River, I saw lifebuoys every now and then…
A round, red and white cabinet with the word 救生圈 painted on it.
…Some were in these round cabinets.
An industrial structure spanning Love River.
I wasn’t sure what this structure was. Possibly a flood barrier?
Palm trees line a path next to Love River. An arched road bridge is illuminated in neon blue, in the distance.
Further along, things felt more tropical.
An arched road bridge across the river, illuminated in neon blue.
Here’s the road bridge that was in the background of the previous photo.
A golden temple on the other side of the river, with tall buildings behind it.
I saw this temple across the river.
Four small boats docked on the edge of Love River. Three of the boats are flat, almost like barges, and one has a canopy over the deck.
Some boats were moored nearby. Out of shot, to the left and right of this photo, people had driven up to the river edge on scooters, and were fishing.
Grand red-and-gold buildings in the distance.
I saw this grand complex in the foothills, but am not sure what it was.
I came across more bridges of different colors.
Here’s another one.
The outside of the Carrefour at Love River. Dozens of scooters are parked outside.
I passed the Carrefour Love River hyperstore, which I’d walked to from my hotel earlier in the month.
A wide stretch of Love River.
The river widened as I got closer to the harbor. The colored lights on either side, and on the bridges, were synchronized—making patterns that darted around the edge of the water. It was fairly quiet, with not a lot of traffic noise. On the other side of the river someone was playing an accordion in a skilled, melancholic manner.
A high tide laps across concrete steps on the edge of Love River.
This part of the river is tidal.
Diners at a bar next to Love River. In the foreground is a spherical room made of transparent plastic, with tropical furniture inside. Above the path is a glass and metal cube-shaped room. Others are sitting on barstools outside, next to the river.
This was the first large group of people I encountered on my walk, around 5km in. At this bar you could drink in the plastic bubble to my left, the glass cube above, or next to the river.
Tourists in a large electric gondola on love river.
Electric gondolas were gliding by.
An electric tour boat docked at the side of Love River. It looks to have perhaps 30 or 40 seats.
People were also lining up to ride on these electric tour boats.
A round glass platform, approximately two stories high, with a large golden dragonhead sculpture on top, facing away from the river.
I saw a golden dragon atop this glass platform. The door was open at the base, but no one was going inside.
Passengers lined up to board an electric gondola which is docked on the edge of the river. A 2-meter tall heart sculpture is next to them.
An electric gondola pulled up where the next group of passengers were waiting to board.
Two Formosan Black Bear statues next to the river, with a bridge and the Kaohsiung Music Center in the background, and an electric gondola gliding by.
The river mouth is just on the other side of this bridge. These guys were familiar from my first day in Kaohsiung, two weeks earlier. Here, the Kaohsiung Music Center is visible in the background, and another electric gondola is gliding by on the right.
Kaohsiung Music Center at night, from across the mouth of Love River.
Love River meets the harbor next to Kaohsiung Music Center.
A temporary stage with six actors in traditional Chinese dress, watched by a crowd of people spread across the intersection.
Walking the last few blocks to my apartment, I came across this outdoor theater performance at 9:15pm. It was literally on a street corner, with the audience spread across the intersection (which was still open to traffic). There were maybe 100 people watching, mostly children, sitting on stools and folding chairs. Some adults were watching from their scooters, which they’d driven up to the back of the crowd.
An urban intersection with a red and gold temple on one corner.
This is the other side of the same intersection. The performance may have been connected to this local temple.
A beautiful red and gold temple at an intersection with scooters riding past.
One short block away, closer to my apartment, another beautiful temple. I’d enjoyed the walk but had seen no evidence of preparations for Lantern Festival—which I later learned is hosted elsewhere this year. I’m writing this on 25 January, which means Lantern Festival starts tomorrow night. I’ll be at Lotus Pond to watch the show.