Lunar New Year Traditions Around Asia

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Focus Asia Travel

Charye is a popular ceremony for ancestors.

Lunar New Year marks the start of the lunar calendar and a new moon cycle. For many people in East Asian countries, it is a time for families to come together to celebrate, feast, and welcome the new year. 

The holiday is associated with Chinese New Year because the dates are often influenced by the Chinese lunisolar calendar. However, many Asian countries also celebrate Lunar New Year. Although their celebrations share similarities, Lunar New Year traditions vary in each region and family. 

China

In China, the Chinese New Year celebration takes place over sixteen days, and the days that lead up to New Year’s Eve are usually spent doing preparation work such as cleaning the house and shopping for clothing, decorations, and food. Those living overseas return to their hometown to reunite with family members. One of the most important aspects of Chinese New Year is the reunion dinner which takes place on New Year’s Eve. Many of the dishes are symbolic of good luck and fortune. Some of the most common dishes are fish, longevity noodles, dumplings and tangyuan glutinous rice ball dessert. Traditionally, people dress in red and yellow, as the colors symbolize wealth and good luck. It is also a tradition for the elderly to distribute red envelopes containing money. Firecrackers and dragon or lion dance shows are also popular rituals. After celebrating the New Year as a family, people often visit their other loved ones’ homes. 

Putting up Chunlian to welcome the new year. (ChinaWhisper)
Dragon dance celebration with firecrackers. (Euro News)

Vietnam

Similarly, in Vietnam, Tet Nguyen Dan is usually celebrated in late January to mid February. However, instead of celebrating for 16 days, Tet Nguyen Dan is celebrated for three days. People visit their friends and families and pay tribute to their ancestors at local temples. Some of the most popular dishes are bánh dầy and bánh chưng — different types of glutinous rice cakes. A tray of snacks primarily made up of candied fruits called Mut Tet are offered to visitors. Like the Chinese, the Vietnamese value coming together as a family, as well as wearing the colors red and yellow. They also observe the same traditional beliefs such as avoiding cleaning to prevent sweeping away luck and avoiding washing or cutting hair during the New Year.

Bánh chưng – Vietnamese square rice cake. (The Time Journeys)
Family reunion dinner (Tet).
(VietVisionTravel)

Korea

In Korea, Seollal is also celebrated for three days. During this time, Koreans dress in hanbok, the traditional dress, and pay tribute to their ancestors by offering prayers, bowing, and setting up a table of fresh dishes. A must-have dish is called “tteokguk,” a type of rice cake soup that symbolizes a new beginning. Sebae is also performed, where young people bow to the elderly and receive cash or other goods. Koreans also play traditional folk games together and spend time with family. 

Tteokguk (Broth and rice cakes, traditional korean dish) (Global Deagu)
Neolttwigi (game) (Korea Tourism Board)