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Lunar New Year Celebrations in East Asian Countries

Nov 27th, 2023

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, is one of the most important traditional holidays in China and other East and Southeast Asian countries, and is celebrated by over a billion people worldwide! It’s based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar, and the New Year date varies from year to year, typically falling between late January and early February. The host of celebrations last for 15 days, culminating in the Lantern Festival.

What is the Lunar New Year?

Though every culture that celebrates the Lunar New Year celebrates it a little differently, there are some common threads that weave through this tapestry of elaborate tradition.

Common Lunar New Year traditions

Red decorations: Red is considered a lucky color in many Asian cultures, symbolizing prosperity and happiness. Homes and streets are adorned with red lanterns, banners, streamers and other bright decorations during Lunar New Year.

Family reunions: Lunar New Year is a great time for families to come together for reunions and celebrations. Family gatherings are considered essential for maintaining strong familial bonds and ensuring good fortune in the new year.

Feasts and delicacies: Lunar New Year is marked by a series of feasts and traditional dishes. Dumplings are a popular symbol of prosperity and wealth, while other delicacies like mandarin oranges, rice cakes and longevity noodles are also enjoyed by many.

Red envelopes: Elders traditionally give red envelopes filled with money to children and unmarried adults as a symbol of good luck and blessings — the money is believed to bring prosperity and financial success in the new year.

Lion and dragon dances: Vibrant lion and dragon dances are performed throughout Lunar New Year celebrations. These energetic performances are believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the community.

How different countries celebrate Lunar New Year

The beauty of holiday celebrations is that even while people of different cultures share many of the same holidays with others, every country celebrates in their own unique way. It’s certainly the case for Lunar New Year, as it’s celebrated all over Vietnam, South Korea, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei!

Here’s how some of these countries celebrate Lunar New Year and the traditions you’re likely to see in those celebrations!

Lunar New Year in China

In China, Lunar New Year is a time for family reunions, feasting and grand festivities. Homes are adorned with red decorations, symbolizing good luck and prosperity, and people exchange red envelopes filled with money as a token of blessings. Traditional dishes with dumplings, spring rolls and fish are enjoyed, each carrying symbolic meaning. Lion and dragon dances add to the vibrant atmosphere, as they’re believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune into the brand new year.

Lunar New Year in the Philippines

People in the Philippines celebrate the Lunar New Year with a mix of Chinese and Filipino traditions. The celebration is particularly vibrant in urban areas with large Chinese communities, such as Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world. 

On Lunar New Year's Eve, families gather for a hearty feast called Media Noche, a midnight meal that signifies abundance and prosperity in the coming year. The table is laden with traditional dishes symbolizing good fortune and longevity, such as round fruits (to represent prosperity), sticky rice (because it binds families together) and pancit (long noodles that represent longevity). After the feast, families often stay up late playing games and watching fireworks.

Lunar New Year in Vietnam

In Vietnam, Tết Nguyên Đán is a time for ancestor veneration, family gatherings and vibrant displays of fireworks. Homes are meticulously cleaned and decorated with kumquat trees, peach blossoms and colorful lanterns, while families gather for feasts featuring traditional dishes like bánh chưng (glutinous rice cakes), thịt kho tàu (caramel pork) and canh măng (bamboo sour soup).

Lunar New Year in South Korea

Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, is marked by deep bows and traditional greetings to elders, reflecting respect and gratitude. Families gather for elaborate feasts featuring rice cakes (tteokguk), mandu dumplings, and other traditional dishes, while children play traditional games like yut (Korean backgammon) and jegichagi (kicking a feathered shuttlecock).

Lunar New Year in Malaysia and Singapore

Thanks to these countries’ centrally-located geography, Lunar New Year is celebrated with a vibrant mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions in Malaysia and Singapore. Homes are decorated with red lanterns and traditional ornaments while parades and lion dances fill the streets. Open houses and feasts are common, with dishes like yee sang (prosperity salad), dumplings and mandarin oranges representing good luck and wealth.

Lunar New Year in Indonesia

Imlek, the Indonesian Lunar New Year, is particularly celebrated by the Chinese minority in Indonesia. Families gather for meals featuring traditional dishes like lontong (rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves), lumpia shanghai (spring rolls) and mandarin oranges. Lion dances add to the festive atmosphere in local Chinatowns and temples.

This upcoming Lunar New Year, keep an eye out for any festivals, celebrations or events in your area. Chances are that you’ll meet some great people, experience a new celebration and learn more about your neighbors!


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/NguyenDo

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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