In my opinion, the monkey, ox, rooster or rat can't beat the rabbit in cuteness or cuddliness! After the ferocious year of the Tiger, 2011 will be more quiet, reflective and possibly more tame. I personally could use an uneventful year. In Chinese mythology the rabbit represents longevity and is thought to derive its power from the moon. The rabbit symbolizes graciousness, kindness, good manners and a sensitivity to beauty. Although the rabbit may seem timid and overly deliberate at times, the rabbit is very self-assured and occasionally conceited. But this rabbit doesn't look so narcissistic...
This year is my first Chinese New Year in Taiwan. I love holidays, and I love learning about holiday customs in new countries. I believe that one can learn so much about a culture from paying close attention to holiday traditions.
The Chinese New Year preparations began well ahead of time, as people shopped in Di-Hua Street, a narrow side street converted into the central lunar new year shopping area.
All of the specialty foods enjoyed during the New Year are sold in jam packed stalls below fluttering lanterns and lights. In the days leading up to the New Year, Di-Hua Street is so crowded that one cannot fight the crowd, but must be pulled along in all directions up the road. It is a frantic mix of smells, sounds, hip-hop dancing vendors, samples in tiny cups, and excited people. Bags of snacks, fruit and gifts are brought home, distributed among friends and family and enjoyed over the holiday.
Being a neophyte, I was anxiously waiting around on New Year's Eve for something 'holiday like' to happen. As the sun set, food was prepared and set in front of the Buddhist alter as an offering to the ancestors. For our own dinner, we enjoyed various dishes eaten in the traditional communal way, when everyone takes some from one plate. After our meal, more dishes were prepared and set out on a table near the window. This offering of food, fruit, flowers, desserts and money was set out for the Gods.
Incense were lit at 11:15pm when the New Year begins according to the Lunar Calendar. When the incense were half way burnt, we went down onto the street to burn the paper money as an offering to the Gods.
In a metal container, we folded the money and set it on fire piece by piece.
When we were back inside, the bang and crack of fireworks had already begun. According to a Chinese myth, the New Year Monster does not like the color red or the sound of fireworks. In order to scare off the monster, people hang bright red decorations on their houses and light off fireworks during the week of celebration. For the last four days there has been a constant bang of fireworks as everyone plays their part in scaring away the monster.
Because everyone is enjoying a week of vacation, shops, restaurants and businesses are closed, and there is a general feeling of relaxation. People are at home with their families, enjoying this rare time together. On Tuesday everything will open again, and the quiet streets of Taipei will transform back into the thriving metropolis that it was before the New Year holiday.