VOLUME 28 NO. 6 | JANUARY 31 - FEBRUARY 6, 2009

The same tradition done six different ways

Last updated 1-29-09 at 1:11 p.m.

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

The Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays celebrated in Asian cultures. Though each nation rings in the new year on the same day, the celebrations vary. This is an introduction to some of the traditional ways cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year:


In China, it’s not uncommon for people to take a few weeks off work in preparation and celebration of the New Year. At these celebrations, red is the lucky color. It symbolizes fire, which is believed to drive away bad luck.

People wear red clothes and print poems on red paper. Children are given “lucky” money in red envelopes. Lighting fireworks during celebrations is a tradition from when the Chinese people lit bamboo stalks in the belief that the crackling flames would scare away evil spirits.

Families visit during the holiday. One of the most significant gatherings is a feast on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

In the United States, early Chinese immigrants whose families were overseas were able to restore this tradition of togetherness by celebrating with their neighbors. To this day, many Chinese American neighborhood associations still host banquets and events to ring in the Lunar New Year.

The 15th day of the first lunar month is celebrated with a lantern festival. Glowing lanterns are hung in temples and carried to an evening parade. Some may be painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, or scenes from legends and historical events. One of the highlights of the lantern festival is the dragon dance, which includes a replica of a dragon that may stretch up to 100 feet long. The dragon is usually made of silk paper and bamboo and is held up by young men who dance and guide it through the streets.


Taiwanese Lunar New Year celebrations are similar to the Chinese: Families get together, “lucky” red money envelopes are given as gifts, fireworks are lit, and a lantern festival is held — complete with a dragon dance.

In Taiwan, people try to stay up all night on Lunar New Year’s Eve because it was believed to prolong the life of their parents. Lights are left on all night, and some people will also hold religious ceremonies after midnight to welcome the god of the New Year into their homes.


The Lunar New Year, or ‘Tet’ in Vietnam, is a time for family members to be together for a special meal, followed by a visit to local pagodas.

In preparation for Tet, people will get haircuts, buy new clothes, clean their homes, visit friends, and settle outstanding debts.

Red banners reading “chuc mung nam moi” (“happy new year, everyone” in Vietnamese) are hung in businesses and stalls selling different kinds of delicacies and flowers.

Some stalls sell flowering peach trees, which are symbols of life and good fortune. People bring these into their homes to celebrate the upcoming spring.


In Korea, Lunar New Year is called Seollal and it is one of the most important holidays. Koreans will make an offer, or chesa, to ancestors. During holidays, offerings are called chare, and are served with liquors and teas. Food is prepared the previous day.

Early in the morning, people will take a bath and put on solbim — new clothes. This is usually a traditional dress called hanbok.

Fun activities during the celebration includes flying kites, playing games, and snow sledding. A very popular game is called yut, a traditional Korean board game.


Malaysians prepare and celebrate Lunar New Year in similar ways to the Chinese and Taiwanese. They buy new clothes, decorations, and food. They also clean their homes and decorate them with red lanterns, banners, plastic or paper firecrackers, and panels inscribed with themes of happiness, wealth, and longevity.

Like many other cultures, celebrating the new year is a family-oriented event. Similar to the Taiwanese, Malaysians will try to stay up all night to prolong their parents’ lives.

Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines

Indonesians, Singaporeans, and Filipinos of Chinese ancestry celebrate Lunar New Year and practice similar traditions as people in China, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

Families get together, fireworks are lit, houses and businesses are decorated with red banners and lanterns, and communities hold a parade with a dancing dragon. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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