On January 28, more than a billion people worldwide will begin their festivities to greet the new year. Lunar New Year, also called Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, is observed on the first day of the year following the ancient lunar-solar Chinese calendar. This typically falls anywhere between late January and late February in the Gregorian calendar. Despite having origins in China, many neighboring countries who adhere to the Chinese calendar celebrate the occasion as well. Here are the different ways people across Asia ring in Lunar New Year!
The Spring Festival is a 15-day celebration that rewards a year of hard work, provides time to rest and relax with loved ones, and wish for luck and prosperity in the coming year. Chinese people who have settled across the globe flock home to take part in their family celebrations. Traditional activities include draping the house with red New Year’s decorations, eating a ‘reunion dinner’ (considered the most important meal of the year) with family, handing out red envelopes, setting off firecrackers to ward off evil, and wearing new clothing. Shou Sui refers to “after New Year’s Eve dinner” when family members stay awake during the night to fend off nian a mythical beast said to come out on New Year’s Day. Especially in small towns that retain more traditional festivities, you will see ancestor worship and dragon/ lion dances. More modern celebrations include watching the CCTV Gala, instant message greetings, and cyber money gifts.
Tết Nguyên Đán, or Tết for short, is the most widely-celebrated festival in Vietnam spanning up to seven days. Vietnamese people take time to remember their ancestors as well as usher in the new year with family. The core activities of Tết celebrations are similar to China’s – houses are decorated with red and yellow, children receive red envelopes, and everybody gets new clothing. Preparations begin well in advance. In order to rid the house of bad luck, people clean their homes for days, painting and/or embellishing it with kumquat trees, branches of peach blossom, and various colorful flowers. Extensive care is devoted to the ancestral altar which is laid with precise decorations of five kinds of fruits and word amulets written on red paper. Debts are resolved before the new year because it is believed to be bad luck to enter the next year owing money. People believe that what they do at the start of Tết decides their fate for the whole year, so they are on their best behavior.
While many observe Sinjeong (first day of the year of the Gregorian calendar), the majority of Koreans celebrate Seollal (first day of the lunar calendar), which lasts for three days. During Seollal, Koreans wear hanbok (traditional clothing), carry out ancestral rites, enjoy folk games, eat traditional dishes and converse late into the night. Preparations are demanding. Families purchase gifts, people living away book transportation home, and then there’s the holiday feast! On this day family members dress up and gather in front of the ritual table with the ancestral tablet and ritual foods to greet their ancestors. After bidding farewell to the spirits, members gather to feast on the food. Following the meal, younger generations pay their respects to the elders by performing a deep bow (‘sebae’) and presenting them with gifts. Elders then give their blessings and children receive sebaetdon (New Year’s money).
In 1873, the official New Year date was changed from the first day of the lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Shogatsu or oshogatsu is the most important holiday in Japan extending from December 31st to January 3rd. Unlike other Asian countries, New Year’s in Japan is a quiet, family affair. People welcome kami (gods) of harvest into their homes and businesses with traditional pine and bamboo wreath decorations; kadomatsu are placed at an entrance and shimekazari are hung above doors. New Year’s postcards, called nengajō, are sent out early to distant family and friends to ensure they arrive before January 1st. At midnight on December 31st, Buddhist temples across Japan ring their bells 108 times, symbolic of ridding the Japanese people of the 108 desires that cause human suffering. Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the year, believed to have supernatural powers, so people often gather on mountaintops to catch the sunrise and pray for good health and wellbeing. Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the year between January 1st and 3rd to pray. New Year’s money, tucked in decorated envelopes called pochibukuro, is given from bosses to employees, grandparents and parents to children, and husbands to wives.
Beginning on the first day of spring, known as Tsagaan Sar“ or white moon,” Mongolian New Year’s celebrations last for three days. A few weeks in advance, families prepare lots of food and elegant clothing while nomads assemble their best horses to ride during the celebration. Bituun is the day before Tsagaan Sar when Mongolians clean their house, candles are lit to symbolize enlightenment of the samsara and all cognizant beings, and three blocks of ice are placed at the doorway to clench the thirst of deity Paden Lhamo’s horse when the deity visits every household. During the evening, families gather to feast. On the first morning, the hostess makes an offering of the first cup of tea with milk to the gods by dispersing the contents in all directions. After sunrise, members begin greetings and then proceed to the front of the house where they carry out ritual prayers. During the next two days of Tsagaan Sar, Mongolians visit their entire family – sometimes 10 within a day – in order of age (eldest first). Visits are highly ritualized and the guest later gives the host money (new notes to signify renewal) with the amount contingent on the importance of the host.
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