Thursday, January 15, 2015

Taiwanese Traditions: Holidays and the Lunar Calendar 2015

Living in Taiwan, as a foreigner, means that I have to pay attention to the Lunar Calendar.  I’m a pastor and I have to be careful of church events planned throughout the year, because if they fall on one of Taiwan’s major holidays, I will be the only one attending the event.  As a result I have become interested in the Lunar Calendar. 

The very first renderings of a lunar calendar go all the way back to the Shang Dynasty.  This is the 2nd Chinese Dynasty, which existed in 1600 BC until 1046 BC.  But the calendar has gone through a number of revisions since that time.  As science progressed and the true and actual cycles of the moon and the earth were understood the calendar was changed t reflect this information.  These revisions are tedious and boring, so I will not include all of that stuff in this post but I will tell you that the current lunar calendar has been in use since 104 BC. 

There are a number of rules that govern the calendar:

  1. Each Month begins at midnight on the day of the new Moon.
  2. There are 12 regular months.
  3. The sun must pass through winter solstice in month 11

In order to make that happen, there must be an intercalary month inserted into the calendar.  An intercalary month is like a leap month.  It month can take place after any month and is the same number of days as the month it follows. Because of the use of intercalary months of the Lunar calendar the corresponding days of the holidays in the Solar Calendar Change each year.  For example in 2014, Chinese new Year took place on January 31, in 2015 it will be on February 19.

Most of Taiwan’s traditional holidays are marked through the use of the Lunar Calendar.  modern Holidays are marked through the Solar Calendar.  Let’s take a look at the Taiwanese Holidays:

Chinese New Year春節Lunar date is January 1.  (February 19, 2015)  This is the most important holiday of the year.  It is celebrated much the same way that Christmas is celebrated in the west.  Families gather for 3-15 days.  Traditional meals are served on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  People are given gifts of Hong Bao 紅包 these are gifts of money that are a wish of prosperity for the recipient.

The LanternFestival元宵節 Lunar date is January 15.  (March 5, 2015) This is the first day a full moon can be seen in the New Year.  People celebrate by lighting and launching sky lanterns.  There are also huge venues where people go to see artistically made lanterns and watch them launched.  People often write prayers and wishes on the side of the lanterns before they are released.   The traditional food for the Lantern festival is the Tang yuan 湯圓 (soup circle).  These are balls of gooey, sweet rice gluten.

Qingming Festival: 清明節 Solar Holiday: April 5, 2015.  During the Qingming Festival families gather to sweep the tombs of departed ancestors.  It is a day to honor the dead.  Many people use this day to burn incense and worship their ancestors.

Dragon BoatFestival: 端午節 Lunar date is May 5.  (June 20, 2015)  his festival honors Chinese Poet Qu Yuan.  It is celebrated with the racing of the dragon boats.  People eat a special sticky rice pyramid called a zongzi. 

Night of Sevens: 七夕  Lunar date is July 7.  (August 20, 2015)  This holiday celebrates the legendary love of  Niulang and Zhinu.  According to legend they are forever separated, but are allowed to unite on July 7.  The Taiwanese view this as a romantic night celebrated much like Valentine’s Day in the west.

Ghost Festival: 中元節 Lunar date is July 15. (August 28, 2015)  The festival honors the departed ancestors.  People commemorate this day by placing offerings of incense, food and beverages outside their homes and the burning of spirit money for the family members who have departed the world.  This is the most important date of Ghost Month (The whole month of July on the lunar calendar.) 

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival:  中秋節 Lunar date is August 15.  (September 27, 2015)  This is the day when most people get together with friends and family and barbeque.  Look for an in-depth post on the Moon Festival in September.  A gift is given to friends and family of moon cakes.  Circular cakes made with egg yolks and other things inside.  The shape represents the moon and the cakes themselves are good wishes for the recipient.

Double Ninth Festival:  重陽節 Lunar Date is September 9.  (October 21, 2015)  People usually celebrate this holiday by climbing mountains or visiting flower shows.

Xia Yuan Festival:  下元節 Lunar date is October 15.  (November 26, 2015)  During this festival people pray to the water god for a peaceful year.

Winter Solstice:  冬至 Solar Holiday (December 22, 2015).  This corresponds to the Winter Solstice in Western Countries.  Families gather to celebrate on this day.

Kitchen God Festival:  謝灶Lunar date is December 23.  (February 1, 2016)  This is the day to thank the kitchen god.  It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun's yearly report.

(You can follow the links for more information on selected holidays.) 

One final note is that the Chinese Zodiac is broken down into 12 years.  Each year corresponds to a particular animal.  It is believed that people born in a particular year will share the traits of the animal mentioned.  The following is a breakdown of the Zodiac and the corresponding years from 1924 through 2031.  See if you can find yours.

Rat                   1924  1936  1948  1960  1972  1984  1996  2008  2020
Ox                    1925  1937  1949  1961  1973  1985  1997  2009  2021
Tiger                 1926  1938  1950  1962  1974  1986  1998  2010  2022
Rabbit               1927  1939  1951  1963  1975  1987  1999  2011  2023
Dragon              1928  1940  1952  1964  1976  1988  2000  2012  2024
Snake                1929  1941  1953  1965  1977  1989  2001  2013  2025
Horse                1930  1942  1954  1966  1978  1990  2002  2014  2026
Sheep                1931  1943  1955  1967  1979  1991  2003  2015  2027
Monkey             1932  1944  1956  1968  1980  1992  2004  2016  2028
Rooster              1933  1945  1957  1969  1981  1993  2005  2017  2029
Dog                   1934  1946  1958  1970  1982  1994  2006  2018  2030
Boar                  1935  1947  1959  1971  1983  1995  2007  2019  2031

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  The Beliefs of Confucianism
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Planting and Growing of Rice
Taiwanese Traditions:  Selling and Brewing Tea

Photo Credit:  http://www.spreadshirt.com/goat+sheep+t-shirts (Ed. Note:  This photo can be purchased as a t-shirt at spreadshirt.com.)

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