My Taiwanese friend kindly invited me to her mother’s family’s home for the second day of the new lunar year. This is a day when women traditionally visit their family.
The major event is a meal celebrating the new year. On reaching the house, I realised this wasn’t going to be an inside meal when I saw a large tarpaulin being set up outside by several men of the family.
As is the custom, I brought a gift. I found some nice nuts at a new year’s market. My friend mentioned that in previous years it had taken her mother a day or two to prepare the meal and she came early to assist her. But this year because of the crowd, she had the meal catered. There were around fifty people there.
At first, we sat in the living room, where we played a Taiwanese version of Monopoly. The family tried to include me. They had to do a lot of explaining. While we were doing this, my friend’s son walked around with a lucky draw cardboard box with compartments laid in a grid. My friend’s son collected money from family members, who were then allowed to poke a hole into a compartment and take out a candy. One aunt had to try twice when her first attempt uncovered a note saying, “Jiayou!” (Keep trying!)
It was a hot day. But once the food arrived, the pavilion tents provided some shelter. We started eating around midday and the meal lasted an hour and a half. It ended with ice cream. There were many dishes, including hot pot, fish, meat, and vegetables. My friend’s mother walked around the tables toasting everyone with the customary, “Gan bei!” and ensuring everyone was enjoying the meal. There was no danger of anyone going home hungry!
After the meal, some of the elderly played various games. One was called “Four Colours.” Another was a game with dice. There were several attempts to explaining the game to me, but I never did understand the rules. My friend told me this is a common activity at Chinese New Year. Someone else mentioned it’s a way of determining if the year ahead will be lucky or not.
Everyone was warm and welcoming! As a family, they usually speak Taiwanese. But they tried to remember to speak Mandarin, so I could understand some of the conversations. Several people asked whether I was comfortable and checked to ensure I enjoyed the food. I was also asked why I had come to Taiwan.
Many of the family members live fairly close to my friend’s mother’s house. At the end of the day, several people simply walked home or had a short drive.
The Chinese New Year celebration in Taiwan has some resemblances to Christmas festivities in the UK – the family gatherings, the large meals, and the activities and customs unique to this time of year. It was pleasant to witness family members catch up with each other. There was an exchange of news and a lot of chatting. It was a pleasure to be a part of this celebration. I am grateful for the invitation to spend such an important day with my friend’s extended family!
– Sarah, Language and Culture Learner