It may feel like you’ve only just rung-in the New Year, but countries around Asia are already preparing for another end-of-year celebration – the Lunar New Year. Unlike the Gregorian version, the lunar calendar is based on cycles of the moon, and countries such as China and Vietnam determine their main yearly holidays around this cycle.
In Vietnam, for example, the Lunar New Year is known as ‘Tết’ or ‘Tết Nguyên Đán’. This celebration, which usually lasts around ten days, is by far the biggest holiday in Vietnam and involves many family traditions and customs. Many people will return to their hometowns for some quality time during this period, and make annual pilgrimages to the resting places of their family’s ancestors, where they will ritually clean their graves as a mark of respect.
The holiday, which takes place from the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar (which in 2013 will be February 10) is also a time of joy as well as remembrance. The highs of the festival are provided by plentiful fireworks displays done on a large scale, especially in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and an abundance of games and entertainment.
Steeped in superstition, the holiday is awash with taboos and faux-pas that should be avoided at all costs as the Vietnamese believe any negative incidents that occur at during the New Year will continue to plague them throughout the year. For example, one shouldn’t sweep their rooms or empty the rubbish in case they are removing any luck from their house. Gifts that shouldn’t be given include cats (the word ‘cat’ is pronounced similarly to the word for ‘poverty’), clocks (which signify the recipient’s time will pass) and anything black – seen as an unlucky color.
The world’s most populous country, China, also celebrates at the same time as Vietnam with their ‘Spring Festival’, known commonly around the world as ‘Chinese New Year’. Again, like ‘Tết’ in Vietnam, the Spring Festival begins on February 10 this year and is the longest holiday on the Chinese calendar, often celebrated for up to 15 days.
Heavily and obviously celebrated anywhere that Chinese people inhabit, the festival is bold and colorful, with red banners and lanterns adorning public areas, and Chinese nationals dress from head-to-toe in any fabric made in the lucky red hue. Animals play their part in Chinese New Year as well, not just on the dinner table (popular foods of the time include roast duck, pork and chicken, as well as Nian Gao, Jau Gok and Mandarin Orange), each year is also represented by an animal assigned to each year – February 10, 2013 will usher in the Year of the Snake, for example.
Dragons are also prominent (not real ones, obviously), and ‘dances’ by costumed performers take place regularly throughout the celebrations. The dragons (sometimes also lions) are believed to ward off evil spirits, as are firecrackers and drums – so if you plan to attend any Chinese New Year celebrations, be prepared for noise!
It’s a good time of year to be a child in both China and Vietnam, as one of the main traditions is to pass out red envelopes containing money to children. The envelopes, holding anything from a few dollars to a few hundred, are always given as an even number as odd numbered cash gifts are usually given at funerals…yet another of the nuances that make China such an intriguing destination for travelers to grasp!
No matter where you are in the world, even if you’re not in Asia, the chances are there’s a Chinatown or Vietnamese restaurant nearby, so why not pop there on February 10 – you’re sure to see some special celebrations going on! Gong Xi Fa Choi and Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year) everyone!