Some people refer to it as Lunar New Year, while others may call it Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. The choice of name is yours, and all three terms hold the same meaning. For many Asian people, Spring Festival marks the best and longest holiday season of the year, encompassing countries such as China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Brunei, and the Philippines.
The origin of Spring Festival dates back to the early days of ancient China during the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. Celebrated from the first to the fifth day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, it holds a significance akin to Ramadan for Muslims or Christmas for Christians.
In Chinese culture, each year is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. According to the Chinese zodiac, this sequence repeats every 12 years. For example, 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, and the next Year of the Dragon will occur in 2036.
The Year of the Dragon is particularly important for Asian people. In Chinese culture, the dragon symbolizes power, nobility, honor, luck, and success. Individuals born in the Year of the Dragon are believed to possess self-confidence and intelligence, making them suitable leaders. Notable figures like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and Gap co-founder Donald Fisher belong to the Dragon zodiac. Business magnates such as Li Ka-shing, Jack Ma of Alibaba, and real estate tycoon Lee Shau-kee were also born in the Year of the Dragon. During the Year of the Dragon, many couples aspire to have new babies, contributing to a population increase.
Spring Festival Traditions and Celebrations
In the lead-up to Spring Festival, you can sense the anticipation as people begin to clean their houses and visit temples for prayers. Temples become crowded during the festival, with Taiwan’s Long Shan Temple, Xing Tian Temple, Zi Nan Temple, and Feng Tian Temple being among the most famous. Another crucial tradition involves family members gathering to enjoy the most significant meal of the year—the New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner, known as Tuan Yuan Fan in Chinese. This dinner has a reputation for featuring a rich and lavish spread, including spring rolls, chicken, fish, and dumplings. During Spring Festival, elders give red envelopes containing money to children, symbolizing positive energy, happiness, and good luck. Adults with stable jobs also prepare red envelopes for their parents as a gesture of gratitude. The amount of money can vary, but it never includes the number 4 due to its resemblance to the word for death in Chinese. This cultural practice extends to thanking parents for their efforts in raising their children.
If you are partaking in Spring Festival celebrations, be prepared to hear the sound of firecrackers—an age-old tradition held to dispel bad luck and spirits. However, this tradition now faces limitations in crowded places due to safety concerns.
Taipei’s Must-See Spot: Dihua Street
Just two weeks before Spring Festival, people in Taiwan flock to the Dadaocheng neighborhood to visit the famous Dihua Street—a place steeped in Taipei’s history and considered the oldest street in the city. Chinese settlers arrived in the mid-1800s during the Qing Dynasty, and the first shops, selling rice, sugar, camphor, dried foods, fabric, and tea, were established in 1851. Dadaocheng became the wealthiest area of Taipei within a short period, especially during the Japanese era (1895-1945), when tea and rice were major exports.
Dadaocheng still preserves its cultural flavor, featuring various architectural styles, including Fujian, Baroque, and Western styles. Dihua Street, spanning 800 meters, hosts local shops on both sides and has been a marketplace for Spring Festival groceries since 1996.
While Dihua Street is typically quiet on ordinary days, it transforms into a lively, bustling area a few weeks before Spring Festival. Many travel magazines recommend tourists visit this unique area when exploring Taiwan.
Mr. Lai, a shop owner on Dihua Street, sells red envelopes and various Chinese-style Spring Festival ornaments. He expresses, “Dihua Street brings us joy every year as we sell our products. Especially during Spring Festival, this place is bustling with people who can find anything they need. Our products represent Taiwanese culture. During Spring Festival, we decorate our houses beautifully to celebrate a happy new year. I welcome everyone to come to Taiwan and experience the unique atmosphere of Dihua Street.”
As you celebrate the Year of the Dragon, don’t forget to extend special blessings to your Asian friends. You can say, “May the Dragon bring prosperity, with wealth rolling in and continuous success,” or use the traditional greeting “Gōngxǐ Fā Cái,” which means “Wishing you prosperity.”