Ep15: Lunar New Year | Sin-tsiann-nî-thâu 新正年頭

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Bite-size Taiwanese | Elementary
Ep15: Lunar New Year | Sin-tsiann-nî-thâu 新正年頭

In this episode (Part 2 of our special coverage of the Lunar New Year holiday in Taiwan), we’ve talked about some of the traditions that happen on New Year's Day and afterwards. Check out this week's Newbie episode for Part 1, which covers New Year's Eve.

(These show notes use tables and rich formatting. Please visit the episode webpage for an optimal viewing experience.)


tsiú-mê / siú- staying up late on New Year’s Eve to “guard the night”
phah bâ-tshiok to play mahjong
sńg pâi-á to play cards
lián tâu-á to play games by rolling dice
khuànn tiān- to watch TV
hiunn an incense or joss stick
hiunn-lôo an incense burner
tshiúnn-thâu-hiunn to compete to be the first one on New Year’s day to place an incense stick in the burner at a temple

Culture note: when “tsú-” begins (the traditional 2-hour period from 11pm - 1am), the temple gates open and people will rush in to be the first ones to place their incense or joss stick into the incense burner. The first person to do this is supposed to receive good luck for his or her family for the entire year.

Lí kám bat khuànn--kuè? Have you ever seen it before?
Guá kan-na tī tiān-sī-tíng khuànn--kuè. I’ve only seen it on TV
pài-pài to pay respects to the gods, ancestors or spirits
pài sîn to pay respects to the gods
pài tsóo-sian / pài kong- to pay respects to one’s ancestors
pài- to visit family and friends during the New Year’s holiday
kiânn-tshun to visit temple, friends, and family during the New Year’s holiday, or to go for a hike or a walk outdoors

Culture note:Kiânn-tshun” literally means “walk-spring”. On New Year’s Day, people would go out to visit temples, family and friends, or even go for a walk or a hike. Traditionally, some people would look up which direction and at which time to head out and start walking for good luck.

tshun-liân red strips of paper hung on boths sides of the door, with a rhyming couplet with an auspicious meaning
huâinn-phi a horizontal red strip of paper hung over the door with often a 4-character auspicious saying
thn̂g-á sweets or candies
tinn-kué New Year’s cake, or a sticky, sweet cake made from glutinous rice flour
sù-sik-tinn four colors or types of sweets served to guests during the New Year’s holiday

Culture note: You might also see some of those traditional Taiwanese sweets served at weddings or as offerings on the altar for “pài-pài”.

tsó-á-ki a fried pastry made from glutinous rice flour, maltose syrup, and sugar
tang-kue-thn̂g winter melon candies
sing-jîn peanut candies
ko-á rice cakes
muâ-láu puffed sesame rice candies
Tsia̍h tinn-tinn, kuè hó nî. “Eat sweet things, and you’ll have a good year!”
Tsia̍h tinn-tinn, thàn tuā tsînn. “Eat sweet things, and you’ll earn a lot of money!”
tshe-tńg guā-ke on the second day of the holiday, to visit relatives on the wife or mother’s side of the family

Culture note: On the 2nd day of the lunar New Year, married women visit the family they came from before getting married, since traditionally, once a woman marries, she leaves her own family and becomes part of her husband’s family. This return to her family before marriage is called “tńg guā-ke” or “tńg āu-thâu”. For children, “tshe-tńg guā-ke” means they’ll go visit relatives on their mother’s side of the family.

guā-ke / āu-thâu-tshù the family before marriage of a woman

guā-ke” literally: “outside-family”;

āu-thâu-tshù” literally: “back-home”

tsò-hué tsia̍h pn̄g to get together for a meal
Tshe-it tsá, tshe-jī tsá, tshe-sann khùn kah pá. a saying that goes: “On the first day: early, on the second day: early, and on the third day: get a good night’s sleep.”
tshe-tsiap-sîn on the 4th day of the holiday, to receive and welcome the gods
tshe-gōo khui-tshī on the 5th day of the holiday, for owners to open shop and return to business
tshe-gōo khai-kang on the 5th day of the holiday, for employees to start working again
tsiann-gue̍h tsa̍p-gōo Siōng-guân. the 15th day of the New Year’s holiday, the Lantern Festival
Siōng-guân / Guân-siau the Lantern Festival

*Syllables that have been greyed out require a tone change


During the New Year’s holiday, people are supposed to refrain from saying anything negative which could influence the rest of the year, so they say nice things and exchange good wishes and auspicious sayings.

In this episode, we learn a few “hó-” to wish people well in the new year. “Hó-” literally means “good language” or “good words”, and can also mean praises and compliments.

Sin-khuài-lo̍k! Happy Near Year!
Sin-kiong-hí! Greetings to a New Year!
Kiong-hí! (Kiong-hí!) Greetings to a New Year! (literally: “congrats” or “greetings”)
Kiong-huat-tsâi! Wishing you a prosperous new year!

huat-tsâi”: to become rich

Sin-thé kiān-khong, bān-jû-ì. Wishing you good health and that all your wishes come true!

sin-thé”: body

kiān-khong”: healthy

bān-”: 10,000 things; everything

jû-ì”: according to one’s wishes

There are many other “hó-” that are longer and they usually rhyme. We already have a few in the list above like “Tsia̍h tinn-tinn, kuè hó nî.” and “Tsia̍h tinn-tinn, thàn tuā tsînn.” Some people might also be creative and just improvise a bit.

Here is a longer one for you to practice:

Sin-tsē hōo i̋nn-înn-înn, ta̍k-ke pîng-an hīng-hok hó kuè-nî.

“In the new year gather and sit around the table; let us all have a peaceful and blessed year.”

If you want more explanation and more about the lunar New Year, be sure to check out our workbook. It gives you some additional vocabulary, culture and grammar explanations, and great exercises to reinforce what you’ve learned in this episode.


For this special episode about the lunar New Year, our One Bite Challenge is a “tshun-liân”.

Tshun-liân” are those red strips of paper on either side of the door. On the strips of paper, you’ll see lines of a poem -- they’re rhyming couplets with the first line on the right side of the door, and the second line on the left side of the door, read from top to bottom.

Here’s our Challenge, which is a “tshun-liân” commonly seen in Taiwan:

天 增 月 人 壽 (Thian tsing suè-gua̍t jîn tsing siū)

春 滿 坤 福 滿 門 (Tshun buán khiân-khun hok buán bûn)

(Unfortunately, we have to write it in a horizontal direction.)

Let’s break down the two lines:

thian tsing suè-gua̍t jîn tsing siū
sky, heaven to increase years, time people to increase life (longevity)
tshun buán khiân-khun hok buán bûn
spring to fill cosmos happiness to fill door (family)

The two lines can be roughly translated as:

“Heaven adds another year of time, and people add another year of life.”

“Spring comes to the world, bringing best wishes to the door.”

There are certain rules for the couplet. For example, they need to have the same number of characters, opposite tone patterns, and related in meaning. For more details about “tshun-liân”, be sure to check out our workbook. It also gives you some additional vocabulary, culture and grammar explanations, and great exercises to reinforce what you’ve learned in this episode.

Music Credit: TeknoAXE



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