Chinese New Year

Holidays In Asia

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Learning the culture of a country involves participation in the celebrations and holidays of the people. Many Westerners exchange gifts on Christmas, Americans will eat Turkey on Thanksgiving, or Europeans might enjoy a day of rest on Easter Monday. However, many of our holidays are rooted in Western culture or a country’s history. As a result, many of our familiar holidays are absent from Asia. Here are a few popular ones that may help you understand the foreign celebrations.Red lanters chinese new year

Chinese New Year

Sometimes known as the “Lunar New Year”, or the Spring Festival in China, the Chinese New Year celebrates the beginning of the new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. Basically, on the traditional Chinese calendar, months are tied to the cycle of the moon. The Chinese New Year takes place on the first new moon that falls between 21 January and 20 February. The event is a major holiday throughout China, and has strongly influenced the lunar new year celebrations of countries neighboring China, such as Korea and Vietnam. Festivities start the evening before the New Year and continue for fifteen days, ending with the Lantern Festival.

year of the pig chinese new year

In China, the Chinese zodiac is closely related to the Chinese New Year. The Chinese zodiac assigns every year with an animal and that animal’s attributes. The zodiac is on a twelve- year, repeating cycle with twelve distinct animals. In 2019, we celebrated the start of the Year of the Pig. Ancient folk lore says that the Jade Emperor decided to name the years on the calendar after the first twelve animals to reach him. Family is at the center of Chinese New Year celebrations. Many migrant workers leave the city and return to their traditional homes. The family reunion dinner takes place on the eve of the holiday. To start the new year fresh, connecting with the most important people in your life, family, is essential. The color red is prevalent throughout the holiday. Red, a symbol of good luck and fortune, is found decorated from streets, doors, and windows. Little red packets filled with money are often gifted from older, married people to young children or unmarried adults.

Labour Day

While not a traditional holiday, Labour Day is a celebration of the working classes and their contribution to society. Typically celebrated on 1 May, Labour Day in China was a three-day holiday but was reduced to just one after 2008. Now, it is common for employees to take the preceding two days off, but to work the previous or following weekend in order to “make up” the missed days of work.

In Japan, Labour Day is not a designated holiday by the Japanese government, but if often falls right in the middle of Japan’s Golden Week. Most employers give the day off anyway, and those that don’t, employees take the day off as ‘paid leave’.

Other countries recognizing Labour Day include Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

New Year Celebration (Japan)

osechi japan new year food

While most countries also celebrate the modern, Gregorian calendar celebration for the New Year, Japan takes it to another level. Known in the country as “Shogatsu”, the New Years celebration is stretched out over an entire week! Similar to Chinese New Year celebrations, families like to come together to reflect on the previous year and ring in the new one. A traditional food dish eaten during Shogatsu is the ‘osechi’, a dish resembling a bento box containing many different flavored items. Many of the dishes are sweet, sour, or dried depending on the region of Japan you are celebrating in.

Western countries will count down the last ten seconds or so to ring in the New Years, but at midnight on 31 December, Buddhist temples all over Japan will ring a bell 108 times. 108 is used to symbolize the belief of the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and ringing the bell for each one of the sins will help rid them from Japanese citizens. 107 of the rings will happen in the minutes leading up to the turn of the year, and the 108th ring happens after the clock strikes midnight.

Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day)

chuseok korean thanksgiving foodLiterally translated as “Autumn’s Eve”, Chuseok is a major three-day holiday celebrated in Korea. Referred by some Westerners as “Korean Thanksgiving”, Chuseok is a harvest festival with major historical significance. As Korea was traditionally an agrarian society, the harvest season was a significant period each year. Chuseok follows the lunar calendar, and is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month. Typically, this falls around the fall equinox.

The most commonly associated food with the festival would be the ‘songpyeon’, a food made from rice powder. It is a small rice cake containing a sweet filling, such as honey or red bean paste. Non-children may consume an assortment of rice wines too. Many Koreans attempt to visit their ancestral hometowns to celebrate the occasion with their families. Once families are together, they engage in two common traditions related to Chuseok. The first, ‘Charye’, is a memorial service hosted by families to honor ancestors and past generations with the presentation of special foods. The custom embodies the belief that of spiritual life beyond physical death. Families like to show respect to the spirits who now serve to protect the current generation and their descendants. The second, ‘seongmyo’, involves visiting the graces of ancestors to pay respects. This is typically done on the morning of Chuseok.

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