This week marks the beginning of a fun, festive period of celebration in many Asian countries as they commemorate the Lunar New Year. Vibrant decorations adorn many houses or shops, and the streets are brimming with visitors and well-wishers. Firecrackers, festivals and special events are just some of the ways the beginning of the New Year is celebrated in China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Tibet. Commonly referred to as the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice, falling on February 19th this year.
This important annual event is celebrated for several days, and there are many customs that involve food, gifts, greetings and events. On the eve of the New Year, people prepare by shopping for food, clothes, and decorations. They also spend time thoroughly cleaning their houses. This represents bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming the new one. Homes are decorated with red lanterns, paintings, and paper cutouts. These are meant to carry best wishes and create a prosperous atmosphere by depicting subjects such as gods, flowers, legends, and popular creatures.
Like many festivals, the New Year has its origins in myths and stories. A popular legend recounts a mythical beast, Nian, who was notorious for eating livestock and crops on the eve of a new year. However, a wise man found out the beast was scared of loud noises and red colors; this started traditions like using fireworks and red symbols.
Asian countries experience a surge in travel during this time of year, as family members who live overseas travel back home to celebrate and share a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve.
In China, a traditional dinner dish is jiaozi, or dumplings. Another common course is whole fish, whose name, yu, is synonymous with “abundance” or “surplus”. On New Year’s Day and the days following, visits to relatives and family friends are common. When guests are over, it is important to serve food that symbolizes luck, fertility, and prosperity. It is common to make pilgrimages to holy sites, visit pageants and performances, and spend time with family members. Businesses and shops are traditionally closed as families enjoy the many rituals and celebrations the Lunar New Year brings.
The lantern festival marks the end of the New Year, and it takes place on the fifteenth day of festivities. Emphasis is placed on the craftsmanship of lanterns, and inscriptions or wishes are written on them before they are lit and drift away. This video below shows parts of the Hong Kong ceremony in 2014, surely a sight to behold and a great reason to travel to China!
Are you taking part in the festivities surrounding the Lunar New Year? If so, plan ahead for a healthy trip as you take part in one of the most cheerful and colorful celebrations in the Asian world. If you have visited these countries in the past for the Lunar New Year, please tell us about your experience in the comment section below or on the Passport Health Facebook page!