Friday, January 31, 2014

Gong Hey Fat Choy

'Happy New Year'. Well, it is a month past the new year celebrations, but I'm celebrating yet another beginning, this time the Chinese New Year.

The festival resembles very closely to the Diwali season back home. A fortnight long celebration has just begun, the longest holiday in the country. Taipei is a city that never sleeps, and there's an interesting 'Tourist Night Market Tour' to explore the midnight shopping. Open air markets are blooming with floral decorations, candy boxes, traditional Qipao dresses and loads of gift items. Looking at the assortment and the price, literally shop till you drop!

The day begins with a visit to the temple to worship the ancestors. What would one typically bring as offerings - fruits, nuts, incense sticks and money? Here in addition I noticed candies, cookies, crackers and cakes. Gods must be really pleased!

The whole city is painted in red, the emblem of joy and prosperity - red dresses, red lanterns, red packets. Bright and colorful lanterns, in different shapes and sizes, are hung everywhere. Fu hangings are seen at the entrance of homes, symbolizing the arrival of luck and happiness. All around there are loud beats of the drum, together with the dragon dance, to evict the evil spirits.

Both these festivals are associated with material wealth and the tradition of gambling. During Diwali, Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped to bring fortune; and it is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with Lord Shiva. Likewise during the Chinese New Year, Hongbao, the red envelopes containing money are distributed to the kids; and the traditional board game, Mahjong, is often played.

Fireworks, although a traditional part of the celebrations, are limited or banned in many urban areas owing to the safety incidents. Legend has it that bamboo sticks filled with gunpowder produced deafening sounds that scared off the monster Nian.

Under the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Horse. Horse is active and energetic, endowed with independence and endurance. So the year ahead augurs well for travel, competition, leadership, and victory. The year already started with a splendid trip, may the rest follow! Amen!

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