The Lunar New Year is celebrated across the Asia Pacific, as it celebrates the beginning of a new calendar year where the months are based on the cycles of the moon. In Hong Kong, we may be more familiar with Chinese New Year, but did you know that there are four other countries that celebrate Lunar New Year based on the traditional Chinese Lunisolar calendar? Let's check out what special customs they have and what delicacies you can indulge in!
The first day of the Korean calendar is celebrated as Seollal and it is one of the most important traditional Korean holidays. Their traditional customs include visiting family, wearing hanbok (Korean traditional clothing), performing bows and receiving money from elders, eating traditional food and playing folk games.
It generally occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice and typically falls on the same day as Chinese New Year. On the day, they will wish their elders a happy new year by performing a deep traditional bow in which they will be rewarded with new year’s money in silk bags, just like the Chinese red pockets that we are familiar with. After the table is set and respect is paid to the ancestors, the feast will begin! Traditional Korean new year foods that you will definitely find on the table include ttoekguk (soup with sliced rice cake also part of birthday celebrations to signify that you are one year older) and jeon (a savoury pancake) amongst many others.
Tết is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture and it signifies the arrival of spring. Likewise, it usually falls on the same day as Chinese New Year and celebration lasts for three days. It is an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. The common customs practised include visiting a person’s house, worshipping the ancestors and giving lucky money. To prevent bad luck from entering the house, all visitors must be invited and the first visitor will likely be a successful person of good temperament in order to bring success to that house for the rest of the year.
Each family traditionally displays cây nêu, an artificial New Year tree consisting of a bamboo pole five to six metres long. The top end is usually decorated with many objects depending on the region, including good luck charms, origami fish and cactus branches. There are also Yellow Apricot blossoms, peach blossom or St John’s wort among the many fruits and flowers that symbolize fertility and fruitfulness for the family. Traditional foods include bánh chưng (tightly packed sticky rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in dong in a square shape), Hạt dưa (roasted watermelon seeds) and Mứt (dried candied fruits) just to name a few!
Before the start of the Meiji period in 1868, the date of the Japanese New Year had been based on Japanese versions of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. However, in 1873, five years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and the first day of January became the official and cultural New Year's Day in Japan.
On the day before New Years, it is a traditional custom to make mochi and prepare it for the day after. Steamed sticky rice is put into a wooden container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet at a high frequency. They also eat soba and gather in front of the temples before midnight. Once the clock strikes 12, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolize ridding of 108 humans sins in Buddhist belief. It is also a major attraction for people and tourists to go and see them.
Losar is a festival in Tibetan Buddhism, celebrated in various dates depending on your location (Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India or Pakistan) but it usually corresponds to a date in February or March in Tibet. Since the Uyghurs adopted the Chinese calendar and the Mongols and Tibetans adopted the Uyghur calendar, Losar occurs near or on the same day as Chinese New Year and Mongolian New Year, but the traditions of Losar are unique to Tibet and predate both Indian and Chinese influences.
Main celebrations focus on the first three days with traditional customs include cleaning their homes, settling debts and decorating their walls with signs painted in flour. To bring in a good harvest, the phyemar (a bucket filled with roasted barley flour and barley seeds, decorated with barley ears and coloured butter) is prepared, as well as a sheep’s head made from colored butter. Traditional foods such as kapse (fried twists) will be found on a cookie pyramid that is commonly found on the dining table, alongside sugarcanes and green bananas. If you are feeling thirsty from all the cookies, they will typically serve chang (warm barley beer) for you to wash it all down!