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Celebrate the Lunar New Year in Asia

The Lunar New Year is celebrated by many countries across Asia. However, the term “lunar” is used loosely to describe the calendar. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, which means it incorporates elements of both lunar and solar calendars. In Asia the lunar calendar has been replaced by the Gregorian calendar on daily activities for a long time, but is still a vital part of the Asian culture.

In the lunar calendar, the 15th day of a lunar month is a full moon day. The festival of the New Year begins on the last full moon day of the year to pass to the first full moon day of the New Year to come. It starts with cleaning houses and businesses and is followed by specific rituals for good luck. The family dinner on New Year’s Eve is equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner in US. Families enjoy fish, dumplings and special pudding called Nian Gao, a auspicious sign for promotion. On the first day of the New Year, families visit the eldest members of their extended families and young children are rewarded with red envelopes stuffed with money. Dragon or lion dances are performed to drive out the bad luck.

The celebration ends on the first 15th day of the year. It is called Lantern Festival. On this day, children carry around lanterns and families eat sweet rice ball soup together.

The celebration starts during the last few days of December and carries on for five to six days. They eat a
special selection of dishes called osechi, consisting mainly of miso, seaweed, fish cakes and burdook root. Parents give children otoshidama, a cash allowance called the “New Year Treasure”. Buddhist temples ring their bells shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve. People count along with the 108 rings, which represents the hardships and sorrows of the past year. When the ringing of the bell is silenced, the New

Year has begun.

Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year, or Seollal, as a collective family. They enjoy a feast of juicy dumplings, steaming soups, sticky rice, noodles and sweets during family gatherings. Traditional must-eat foods on this day are dduk gook and mandu gook. Dduk gook is a soup with glutinous rice cakes sliced into
ovals. Mandu gook is simply dduk gook with small steamed dumplings. Seollal is observed by dressing up in
traditional dress called hanbok, passing out envelopes of money to youngsters. A common Korean custom is jae sa, in which family members bow and pay their respects to the departed.

HMONG CULTURE Provided by Somxai Vue
In Laos and Thailand, the Hmong New Year starts with a ritual ceremony, beginning on the last day of December. Day 1 of the celebration starts on the first day of January every year, lasting for at least three days. Religious ritual observance involves the renewal of the current year’s alter with a new one and paying respect to ancestors by burning paper money to give to them to use in the after-life world. The Hmong religion believes in a variety of spirits both good and bad. These ritual ceremonies are performed to get
rid of the evil influences of the old year and invoke good fortune for the New Year. Sports such as topspin
are also a significant part of New Year celebrations. For the first three days of the New Year, families cannot use money, so that the New Year can bring in good money and fortune.

Courtship among young people involves young men and women meeting during the New Year, playing ball toss and singing traditional folk songs. Most weddings occur after the New Year celebrations usually
between the first and the fifteenth of the month because of this courtship. Young people get married after the New Year because they believe that everything starts new, especially with a new moon.

The Vietnamese ring in Tet Nguyen Dan with plenty of food, fun and a positive attitude. The belief is that the
way you conduct yourself during these crucial three days of the new lunar period sets the tone for the rest of the year. They must clean their homes, pay off old debts and buy or make new sets of clothes for Tet. They give generous gifts of ripe fruits, delicate rice cakes and red envelopes (similar to China). Popular Tet
dishes include banh chung, a square shaped, sweet rice cake stuffed with mung beans and pork. It’s usually eaten with dua mon, a mix of pickled radishes, peppers and other vegetables. Favored snacks include dried watermelon seeds, candied ginger, coconut and pineapple.

By Penny Li
Asian Avenue magazine

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