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…
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.
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:
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. I was standing on a bridge across the smaller lake. It’s a pleasant spot, but I was the only one there. The small bridge I’d just crossed. 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 bridge had turned pink by the time I continued down the other side. This is the head of the larger lake. To my right was another bridge… …It was longer than the first, crossing the larger lake. I saw this marker for “Heart of Love River station”. It appeared to be a dock for tour boats (although none were present). I started walking towards the river mouth, 6km downstream. The path diverged, but I stuck to the riverside route because I’m scared of snakes. 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. As I got closer, I noticed the pylon had a spiral staircase up the middle. I climbed the staircase… …To this viewing platform, a few stories up. I was the only one there. I liked the urban views in all directions. I went back down the spiral staircase… …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. The ribbon changed color, which made it easier to see from this angle. Note the child in yellow at left, for scale. A family was lighting sparklers. Returning to Love River, I saw lifebuoys every now and then… …Some were in these round cabinets. I wasn’t sure what this structure was. Possibly a flood barrier? Further along, things felt more tropical. Here’s the road bridge that was in the background of the previous photo. I saw this temple across the river. 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. 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. I passed the Carrefour Love River hyperstore, which I’d walked to from my hotel earlier in the month. 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. This part of the river is tidal. 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. Electric gondolas were gliding by. People were also lining up to ride on these electric tour boats. I saw a golden dragon atop this glass platform. The door was open at the base, but no one was going inside. An electric gondola pulled up where the next group of passengers were waiting to board. 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. Love River meets the harbor next to Kaohsiung Music Center. 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. This is the other side of the same intersection. The performance may have been connected to this local temple. 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.