TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — It’s New Year’s Eve on the Lunar calendar which falls on Jan. 24 this year, and as Taiwan young and old, ceremoniously pray at their local temple or at home with family, foreigners have a free hand at traveling wherever they wish throughout the island.
After all, it’s a well-known fact that Taipei, the capital, goes quiet while shops shut their doors and many in the city have returned to their hometowns. Looking beyond the big city, what other options do tourists and foreign residents have to enjoy this most auspicious of traditional holidays?
If you want to experience the evening in a more spiritual, but still quite lively manner, there is an age-old temple just south-west of Taipei, Sanxia Temple (三峽祖師廟), where you can observe (and participate in) rituals undertaken by attendees.
Most interesting of these is the race to be the first to offer a lit incense stick to the temple deities. As midnight approaches, the crowds in front of the temple become restless, readying themselves to sprint towards the inner courtyard, nab an incense stick and jab it into the large earn at the structure’s center.
The rush is not only exciting but worth it. Although this tradition isn’t practiced in every temple across the country, it’s said to bring good fortune to whoever achieves this feat.
Getting far, far away from Taipei for the holidays? Heading down south provides many opportunities for scenes of tradition.
One of them is the famous display of fireworks and firecrackers set off in Tainan as we begin the Year of the Rat.
Usually carried out during Lantern Festival at the Luerhmen Mazu Temple (正統鹿耳門聖母廟), organizers have decided to also include this boisterous spectacle for the temple’s Lunar New Year celebrations.
The imposing temple itself is massive with an open square before it, which is where the treasure-trove of fireworks is set off to greet the new year.
Further south near the southernmost tip of Taiwan is the quiet town of Checheng (車城鎮) in Pingtung County, where two pairs of grandiose stairs lead visitors up to the three-tower Fuan Temple (福安宮), throughout New Year’s Eve, processions are made within and without the temple’s main hall, a spacious area glistening with gold color from top to bottom.
At night, the scenery becomes more spectacular, as ceremonies are invoked to call upon the local deity to protect the land around the township for the new year. At the site, bowls of a local delicacy, Sweet Mung Bean Soup (綠豆蒜), a thick sweet soup eaten cold or hot.
Although generally warmer than Taipei, Pingtung still gets a lot of cold wind blowing from the coast, so a hot soup would be just perfect. Just a forty-minute bus ride away and a more party-like atmosphere opens up on the main street of Kenting, a town that also houses pristine beaches and Kenting National Park, all of which can be enjoyed during the days following the Lunar New Year.
As the clock strikes the twelfth hour, no matter where you are in Taiwan, either Taiwanese or not, there are plenty of corners throughout Taiwan that suit all appetites. Just make sure to clean up your house before crossing over to the Year of the Rat!