Lunar New Year across Asia

As an Indonesian of Chinese descent, Lunar New Year is a celebrated holiday close to my heart. Red pockets, lots of cakes, traditional meals, family gatherings and paying respect to deceased family members are among several of the many things we do during this festive occasion.

Lunar New Year itself simply refers to the beginning of the year for those who use the lunar calendar, or the cycles of the moon, to keep track of months. Many countries and cultures celebrate their own Lunar New Year, but one of the most widespread celebration of Lunar New Year across Asia is Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year is a major holiday not only in mainland China, but also in other Asian countries where there are large populations of Chinese descents, such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.

One of the most prominent traditions – that has become almost symbolic of this celebration – is the giving and receiving of red pockets. It is a particularly favourite tradition for young people and children, because inside these little red envelopes is money given for good luck, health, success and other wishes. Traditionally, grandparents, parents and married couples would give red pockets to the children and unmarried relatives. I have seen, however, some married couples give their parents red pockets as a sign of gratitude and respect.

Regarding what kind of foods are eaten during Chinese New Year, I would say it really depends on each family and their tradition. Some classic festive food might include tangerines, dumplings, noodles, spring rolls and nian gao (glutinous rice cake). It is also common to serve various sweets and cakes on living room tables, that guests would nibble on while they sit around and chat.

In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, people are often busy deep cleaning their house; scrubbing windows, sweeping floors, dusting furniture and repairing broken fixtures. Traditionally, this is meant to sweep away the bad luck of the previous year. It is also common to refurbish and redecorate, like repainting walls, getting new curtains and bed linens, hanging up red lanterns and posters. Another tradition that is still held up by most is cutting hair. Like the act of cleaning, this is symbolic of ridding of bad luck and can only be done before the New Year, as doing it on the day is believed to be equivalent of sweeping away good luck.

At the heart of these celebrations is family reunion. It begins the night before, or on Chinese New Year’s Eve, when families would come together to have a dinner feast, much like Thanksgiving or Christmas. The next day, siblings and relatives who live far from one another would gather in one house, usually of the oldest grandparent or living relative, and spend the day together. It is quite a special time, especially for grandparents to see all their kids and grandkids together in one place, enjoying one another’s company during that festive day. Ultimately, what Chinese New Year means to me is spending time with the people I love and cherish.

Happy Lunar New Year!

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Erica Thejab

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May 2022
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