Here’s What New Year’s Celebrations Look Like Around the World

Happy Lunar New Year!

City & People

New Year’s Eve in Canada is like clockwork. We know the drill. As the ritual goes, we either brave the cold weather in a shiny new outfit to paint the town red or we comfortably stay indoors with take-out on speed dial.

When the night sets on December 31, celebration rises as we gear up for the ball drop at midnight to welcome the start of something new. When it comes to the new year and other holidays, Canada uses the Gregorian calendar – the most common civil calendar, which includes religious and publicly accepted conventions. Although the Gregorian calendar is primarily associated with the Catholic Church, it’s been internationally adopted by non-Christian countries.  However, it’s just one of the forty calendars that is used in the world today. You heard that right: forty. Time exists outside of our Western system, and in some cultures, the new year hasn’t even arrived yet.

The following four places have their own set of customs and dates revolving around the new year and, considering that diversity in Canada is expected to grow to 28 percent by 2031, there’s no better time to get educated about the histories of different ceremonies happening across the globe.

Chinese New Year

According to an ancient legend, Chinese New Year began with a battle against a creature called, “Year”. The “Year”, which had the head of a lion and body of an ox, would come out on the eve of new year’s and cause destruction to families, homes, and animals. After discovering that the beast feared fire, loud noises, and the colour red, Chinese New Year was, and still is, celebrated with fireworks, lantern lighting, and red crafts in an attempt to chase the “Year” away.

Since 206 BC, New Year’s in China has been celebrated on the first day of the traditional Chinese calendar. Otherwise known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, it’s one of the biggest celebrations and includes traditions like worshiping the deceased, greeting friends and loved ones, and dragon dances. On the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, a lantern festival takes place to commemorate the first full moon of the year. This year, Chinese New Year falls on February 5. It is the year of the Pig – the twelfth animal in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac signs. In Chinese culture, the Pig is a symbol of yin, characterized as female and associated with the earth, dark, and cold. The pig is an emblem of wealth and fortune, known for being particularly lazy and uh, overweight.

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Japanese New Year

The history of new year in Japan is rich. Five years after the Meiji Restoration – when Emperor Meiji reigned in 1868 and restored the country’s political system after 200 years of seclusion, the country adopted the Gregorian calendar and since 1873 has been celebrating the new year on January 1. However, prior to the Meiji Restoration, New Year’s in Japan was based off the nation’s versions of the lunisolar calendar. Japan once shared the Lunar Calendar with China, Korea, and Vietnam, which takes place around mid-February.

Although Japan celebrates New Year’s based on the Gregorian calendar today, the country is still in tune with the moon’s immense role in the traditional Japanese calendar system. Koshogatsu, or Little New Year, is a festival that takes place every year in Japan around January 15. The festival observes and honours ancient Japanese customs and new year traditions. Little New Year is celebrated to welcome kami, supreme beings, and Gods, whose appearance makes for good harvest during the upcoming year. Japanese families build shrines and special altars in their home decorated with sake, salt, and purifying rice as well as visit various temples and communities to celebrate the year to come.

Korean New Year

Many Koreans celebrate the Solar New Year on January 1 of the Gregorian calendar, however, most Koreans also celebrate Seollal, Korean New Year, one of the most popular and anticipated events in Korean culture. Unlike the traditional Western calendar, Seollal lasts three days and is celebrated the day before, the day of, and the day after the second new moon and winter solstice. Although Korean New Year generally occurs at the same time as the Chinese New Year, traditional activities in Korea are unique to the country.

Korean New Year will fall on February 5 this year and the annual celebration is known to include ancestral rituals, exchanging gifts, offering food to the deceased, and dressing up in traditional clothing called hanbok – semi-formal or formal Korean attire.

Additionally, the custom of lighting a moon house, which is an altar built from wood and branches, symbolizes the guarding against evil spirits. Many Koreans choose to also burn their wishes for the upcoming year, which are then relayed to ancestors.

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Vietnamese New Year

The Vietnamese New Year, better known as Tết or the Spring Festival, aligns with the Lunar New Year and is known as one of Vietnam’s most important national holidays.Tết this year falls on February 5, and Vietnamese people view this date as a time to start fresh as a clean slate, which includes being debt-free, forgiving people, and forgetting unfortunate circumstances.  Cleaning out old clutter is said to attract luck and fortune. (Marie Kondo, anyone?) For travelers visiting Vietnam duringTết, it’s an extremely busy time of year.Tết begins on the first day of the Vietnamese calendar and some will celebrate for up to a week after.

Tết, a shortened term for Lunar New Year in Vietnam, translates to “Feast of the First Morning of the Day.” During this time, street parades are filled with noises from gongs, firecrackers, drums, and bells to ward off evil spirits. Lion dancing is also common to see in Vietnam during new year festivities – Lan, the animal between a lion and a dragon is a symbol in Vietnamese culture for strength, which also helps scare off bad luck and hate. Families come together and feast on traditional Vietnamese cuisines and houses are often decorated with yellow apricot blossoms, peach blossoms, and plum blossoms, as fruit represents fertility for the family’s upcoming year.

If you plan on celebrating the new year, click here to learn about the Lunar New Year events happening in Vancouver!