Although often referred to as Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year is celebrated all over the world.
The holiday lands on a different day each year according to when the first new moon appears in the lunar calendar. This year, the Lunar New Year celebrations begin on February 12. The holiday is often called Chinese New Year, although that’s beginning to change, as it’s celebrated as a national holiday in many other countries. The specific celebrations of Lunar New Year vary from culture to culture, but one similarity connects them all: family reunions. Lunar New Year is an incredibly important festival for being with family and reuniting with relatives you haven’t seen in a while. Here’s how different countries across Asia celebrate the Lunar New Year.
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Lunar New Year is called Tết in Vietnam. Adults give small red envelopes filled with cash, called lì xì, to children. Certain special foods such as banh chung (savory rice cakes) are served, and families gather together to celebrate. Fruit trays with five different fruits are put out for display, and people launch fireworks to scare away the evil spirits. Oftentimes, Vietnamese families will also visit the temple or the graves of their ancestors to offer sacrifices.
In South Korea, families celebrate Lunar New Year together over a big feast. The holiday is called Seollal, and tteokguk (a rice cake soup) is served as a special treat for the holiday because the rice cakes resemble coins. South Koreans hang beautiful scrolls filled with blessings on their doors, and they pay homage to their ancestors as well.
Lunar New Year is also known as ChūnJié (春节) in China, and it’s one of the most important festivals in the country. This year will be the Year of the Ox, and it’s celebrated with plenty of food, tons of firecrackers, and gathering families. Similar to Vietnam, adults also give hóng bāo (red envelopes) to children with money inside. Red is considered a lucky color, so it’s seen on decorations everywhere from red lanterns to red paper cutouts. Performances such as lion and dragon dances, where dancers dress up as animals, are extremely popular. Typically, the Lunar New Year festivities begin on the first new moon and last until the first full moon of the lunar calendar.
Singaporeans celebrate Lunar New Year as one of the most auspicious holidays of the year, as well. Because there is such a big Chinese community in Singapore, many of the same cultural celebrations take place. Some of these are the hóng bāo, the big family dinners, the firecrackers, and the splashes of red all over homes and across the whole city.
Typically called Chinese New Year in Malaysia, the national holiday is similar to that of Singapore’s in that it originated from a large Chinese immigrant community. During non-pandemic years, you can see dragon and lion performances in the streets as part of the New Year celebrations. It’s also customary to have big family gatherings and feasts with traditional Chinese foods.
The Tibetan New Year, called Losar Festival, is often conflated with Lunar New Year. Sometimes the days coincide, but it is a very different festival based on the Tibetan calendar. Like Lunar New Year for many Asian countries, Losar is viewed as one of the most important holidays. During their festival, Tibetans dance, expel ghosts, and serve dumplings, called Guthuk, as part of the festivities.
Lunar New Year, also called Imlek, was actually banned from being celebrated in Indonesia for many years. It wasn’t until 2002 that Indonesians and Chinese immigrants were allowed to celebrate it as a national holiday. Many shops are closed during the holiday and red decorations are hung up all over houses and businesses. People also buy flowers and citrus trees as gifts for friends and relatives.
The small nation of Brunei celebrates Lunar New Year mainly due to the Chinese immigrants who brought their New Year traditions with them. About 10% of the population is Chinese, and they celebrate with lion dances and open house parties. This year, the Brunei government has issued restrictions on how people can celebrate, banning open houses and limiting family gatherings to 350 people, among other restrictions.
Lunar New Year is recognized as a non-working holiday in the Philippines, although it is not celebrated by all Filipinos. It’s mainly viewed as a Chinese holiday celebrated by Chinese-Filipinos, and the location with the biggest party is Binondo in Manila. As one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world, Binondo many different kinds of extravagant Lunar New Year performances every year.
Cambodia and Thailand
While Lunar New Year isn’t as big of a celebration in these countries, they each have a significant Chinese population that does participate in the holiday. If you’re in any of these countries during Lunar New Year, you may see certain promotions or deals related to the festival. Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia don’t officially recognize Lunar New Year as a holiday.