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19 January 2023

How we celebrate the Lunar New Year in Asia - preparations.

Chúc mừng năm mới🇻🇳

恭喜发财! 🇨🇳

Gong Xi Fa Cai! 🇲🇾🇸🇬

Happy Lunar New Year!


I am pleased to publish an article devoted to the Lunar New Year celebration at the exact time when the festival has spread across Asia. What a fortunate coincident;).

There will be no better opportunity than this to share with you my impressions about the culture of celebrating the Lunar New Year in Asia.

All countries where diasporas, whether Chinese or Vietnamese, have a significant share in the structure of society, are celebrating another Lunar New Year. Year of the Rabbit, or more precisely, the Water Rabbit. It will begin on 22nd of January 2023.

Yes, today will be about the popular "Chinese New Year". First, an explanation. This name is not valid in Asia. Surprised?

We have widely used Lunar New Years here, there is the Spring Festival in China, the Tet Festival in Vietnam. Koreans and Japanese also have the equivalent of the name of this holiday. But nowhere is it known as the "Chinese New Year".

We, Westerners, for the sake of simplicity, gave this name to the most beautiful, joyful and most important of the holidays celebrated in Asia.

This holiday is in line with the lunisolar calendar, which is the main calendar in China and Vietnam.

It would seem that the Julian calendar, and then the Gregorian calendar, should be adopted all over the world. However, if we compare 5,000 years of the history of the Middle Kingdom with just over 2,000 years of the history of the Julian calendar, we have the answer. China, as a country with one of the longest history of statehood in the world, considers the lunar-solar calendar to correspond to the culture and history of its nation. This calendar is the valid, respected and used calendar in China and Vietnam. Due to the business connections, it is obvious that the Gregorian calendar is also in use.

Lunar New Year is a movable holiday. It always falls on the first day after the second new moon following the December winter solstice. Like Easter, this holiday has different positions in the calendar. Depending on the year, it may fall between January 21 and February 20.

Depending on the country in which we spend this period, we will experience various cultural events, differences in the menu and the duration of this holiday.

Thus, in the very traditional provinces of China, Lunar New Years will be celebrated for 15 days, until the Festival of Lanterns, which is the fifteenth day after the Lunar New Year.

In the rest of China, the Spring Festival lasts seven days. In Vietnam, on the other hand, the Tet Festival, which is what is called Lunar New Year here, lasts three days. The same is true in Malaysia and Singapore. In the Philippines, despite being a Catholic country, Lunar New Year has its one-day celebration.



Tao Quan - one week to the New Year

The celebration of the New Year begins a week before its arrival. This is the famous day of the Kitchen Ghost - Tao Quan. I already wrote about this in an article about the Mekong Delta. Let me just remind you that you allow the spirit of the kitchen to travel to the heavens to report on the achievements of the past year. Helpful in this work are the 3 golden fish, or carp, which carry Tao Quan to heaven and then return to the nearest river.

In China, in addition, a special type of porridge is prepared, which is served to the household and guests seven days before the New Year.

In all countries of Southeast Asia and Central Asia that follow the lunar calendar, the cities take on color.

This is due to the fact that residents begin to decorate their apartments, houses and streets with flowers, yellow-blooming peach trees, pink apricot trees and lanterns. All decorations are most often red and gold or yellow. These colors symbolize happiness and health in Asia. People living on this continent are very much attached to tradition.

One of the most beautiful is building "flower streets" in Vietnam. During the Tet festival, the selected street or square is decorated with decorations made of flowers and plants. Corners and structures are arranged with the leitmotif of an animal being a symbol of the coming New Year. The whole area is lit and the walking paths lead through the maze of decorations of wonderful beauty.

Walking on the "flower street" is one of the many pleasures that can be had during the spring festival in Asia, but not the only one.

Preparations for the holidays that started seven days before the arrival of the New Year end on New Year's Eve, which is a special day devoted to preparing the last dishes and cleaning the house.

The tradition of cleaning houses before the New Year is based on the belief of sweeping away negative energy, old, impossible matters and bad spirits.

This activity is to prepare the household for the arrival of new spirits, it is also to make our home more attractive to spirits returning from heaven. Also, when it comes to such mundane matters as, for example, hair cutting, it is recommended not to visit the hairdresser on New Year's Eve. A haircut on Christmas Eve, on the first day of New Year's Day, or all over the holidays is, in short, bad luck.

People in Asia also buy new clothes. Tradition calls for wearing new clothes on the first day of the New Year. So everyone buys something new for this day and ... as you probably already guessed, it must be a red item.

In the evening, the most important family dinner of the year takes place - "Family reunion dinner", devoted to experiencing the coming of the New Year together.



Dumplings, Banh Tet and...

When it comes to New Years Eve in China, countless dumplings are prepared. The most important dishes on this day are Jia ozi dumplings and Nian Gao's sticky rice flour dough prepared specially for Christmas Eve dinner. The table is completed with fish, vegetables, traditional tofu and soups.

In Vietnam, two kinds of special dish are served, which in the north is called Banh Chung and is in the form of a rectangle containing sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, and in the south this dish is in the form of a rice bar also wrapped in banana leaves and is called Banh Tet.

The ritual of preparing both dishes begins at dawn, putting layers of rice on the leaves and adding ground beans or meat to the rice. Steaming takes about 5 hours and takes place in a specific sequence and temperature. The art of wrapping rice in banana leaves, tying them with string and the recipe for stuffing are passed down from generation to generation.

Prepared in this way, we set off to conquer the table where pork cooked with egg is waiting for us - Thit Kho Hot Vit. Large abdominal flaps, rich in thick layers of fat, cooked with the addition of tomatoes, are mixed with hard-boiled eggs. Plus melon or squash pickles. For dessert, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins and nuts are commonly consumed. Just like in China, there is no shortage of vegetables, fish and soups.

The New Year Eve evening ends with a fireworks show. Or at least it was like that until 2019. In recent years, these shows have been canceled in most cities due to the protection of the environment and the Covid virus. It is a pity for tradition, but at the same time it has a positive impact on the environment of our planet. This year, the fireworks show returns and on the night from the 21st to 22nd of January, the sky over Sai Gon will again be illuminated by colorful fires.

The tradition of family dinner is so strongly incorporated in the people's behaviour that we are dealing with the largest migration of people in the world. Throughout Asia, hundreds of millions, mainly in China, move from the cities where they work to their hometowns. It is also a large migration between countries in Asia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Also domestic travel is the dominant picture of Asia during the Spring Festival. All this to meet their families.



New Year Eve

It's a family reunion that lasts for many hours at a richly set table. Traditional dishes reign, which I have already mentioned. If you are in China, it will be mass-made dumplings filled with rice or Jia ozi meat filling or Nian gao sticky rice cake. However, if you are in Vietnam, you will get Banh Tet or Banh Chung, and fat pork with egg, pickles and you will taste all candied fruits, seeds and nuts.

Dinner lasts until midnight. Until two years ago, everyone was going to watch a firework show, while shooting their own firecrackers to chase away the evil and old ghosts that might settle somewhere in the house. The sounds of the caps shooting mine these ghosts out. At the same time, they are an invitation to ancestors. The sound of the firecrackers is evoked by deceased family members so that they can spend the next three days with their family. At least spiritually.

Traditional decorations everywhere are red lanterns, peach or apricot trees that bloom beautifully in yellow or pink. It's also time for chrysanthemums. Interestingly, in Asia, for the New Year, chrysanthemum is the base flower decorating entire cities and flower streets in Vietnam.

As is customary just after midnight, the door to the house is closed. They are kept closed until the morning of New Year's Day, to prevent the entry of an evil demon. It is also part of a tradition known as the "the first foot".  This tradition says that the first person who visits our house on the first day of the New Year will bring all his aura into the house. So it can bring good luck or bad luck. The householders choose their guests very meticulously on the first day of the New Year, especially taking care of the one who is to first enter our house.

In anticipation of the first day of the New Year, I wish you all a lot of happiness.
Happy New Year, the year of the Rabbit, which symbolizes harmony and order. This is the time to catch your breath and take advantage of life wisdom. The Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be a year of abundance, fulfillment of passions and successes leading to the fulfillment of dreams. It sounds promising.

One more thing...

Remember that your Kitchen Ghost has something to report next year. So, be polite.

More about how we celebrate the first 3 days of the New Year in Asia and about the traditions associated with them in the next article. Stay tuned!

Chúc mừng năm mới!



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