6 Breathtaking New Year's Festivals in Asia

6 Breathtaking New Year's Festivals in Asia

Skip the bubbly and the ball drop this year in favor of one of these vibrant fetes instead By: Michelle Rae Uy
<p>Prepare to get soaked when celebrating Songkran in Thailand. // © 2017 Creative Commons user <a...

Prepare to get soaked when celebrating Songkran in Thailand. // © 2017 Creative Commons user madeleine_h

Feature image (above): Top off China's Spring Festival in Hong Kong with a glorious display of fireworks. // © 2017 Creative Commons user rmlowe


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The parties, the countdown until midnight and, finally, the ball drop — it’s the time when we break out the bubbly, raise our glasses and maybe find someone to kiss when the clock strikes midnight.

Although our New Year’s Eve routines are lovely, it’s also nice to break from tradition every now and then. In Asia, New Year celebrations are beautiful and diverse and may include water fights, the tolling of bells or the tossing and smearing of vermillion powder. 

Because some countries do not follow the Gregorian calendar, clients may have to wait a few months to attend the festivities. Or, better yet, they can celebrate the new year twice — because the following merrymakings are definitely worth ticking off a New Year’s resolution list.

New Year's in Japan: Dec. 31, 2017, to Jan. 1, 2018
The Japanese New Year is essentially an amalgamation of East and West. Although Japan celebrates the new year at the same time as the Western world, the Japanese have incorporated their own traditional food and customs into the celebration.

Among Japan’s many wonderful New Year’s Day customs include the sending of nengajo (New Year’s Day postcards) for good tidings; giving money to kids in decorated envelopes called pochibukuro; playing New Year’s games like hanetsuki (Japanese badminton) and fukuwarai (a variation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey); and feasting on traditional foods such as mochi (rice cake) and osechi (a traditional New Year’s feast). To welcome the first day of a new year, Japan’s Buddhist temples ring their bells a total of 108 times before midnight to represent the 108 human sins in Buddhism.

Spring Festival in China: Feb. 16 to March 2, 2018
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a New Year’s festival more vibrant or animated than China’s Spring Festival, a 15-day ceremony that embraces many ancient customs and colorful traditions. 

You might even say the celebrations begin before the start of the festival. Open-air markets are set up beforehand to tout not just fireworks but also clothes, toys and flowers. 

Once the festival begins, clients are likely to see oval lanterns bedecking towns and cities; red posters decorating homes; fireworks lighting up the sky; and booming dragon and lion dances taking place in the streets. Folks wear red clothes and exchange red envelopes containing cash. A New Year’s Eve reunion dinner, called Nian Ye Fan, is an elaborate and sumptuous affair. 

Sindoor Jatra Festival in Nepal: April 15, 2018
A number of different celebrations take place in Bhaktapur, Nepal, during the start of the Nepali Bikram Sambat calendar’s new year, but the village of Thimi’s Sindoor Jatra Festival should not be missed.

Though April might feel like a few months too late for a New Year’s celebration, it’s the time when Nepal ushers in the new year and celebrates the coming of spring. In the village of Thimi, local devotees and tourists alike hold a vibrant color festival where revelers get bathed in vermillion powder as they sing, dance and play instruments. Other goings-on include the showcasing of images of gods and goddesses mounted on palanquins (covered, wheel-less vehicles).

Songkran in Thailand: April 13-15, 2018
Every April, Thailand hosts its famous three-day Songkran Festival. The tradition celebrates the astrological change in the Buddhist calendar and welcomes the Thai New Year. It usually begins with devotees visiting their local temples to give offerings for merit, pouring water over statues of Buddha and spending time with family.

It is, however, best known for water fights. The festival, which spans three days and takes place in many major cities, such as Chiang Mai, is one of the largest events in the country. Revelers young and old arm themselves with water guns and water buckets, and dispense their load on pretty much anyone who crosses their path. The drenching game is so popular, in fact, that even some elephants join in. 

Pii Mai Lao in Laos: April 13-15, 2018
Laos’ version of Nepal’s Songkran festival is also celebrated in April but goes by a different name: Pii Mai Lao. During the three-day water festival, the Lao people ring in their new year by cleaning their houses, washing Buddha statues and visiting local temples for worship.

Lao people also celebrate by fashioning sand into stupas (temples) along the Mekong River and decorating them to stop evil spirits, as well as by holding parades and beauty pageants. Traditional music and dancing after the more somber pursuits are typical, as are the water fights. However, in Laos, the water thrown at you might be infused with flour. 

Thingyan in Myanmar: April 14-16, 2018
Similar to Thailand’s Songkran Festival and Laos’ Pii Mai Lao, Myanmar’s Thingyan falls in April and boasts its own water hoopla. It also incorporates Burmese traditions. The festival starts subdued enough, with the first day — called a-kyo nei — focused on laying alms and offerings to Buddha images.

As soon as the sun goes down, however, revelries begin, and the whole country turns into one massive block party. Music and dancing take place near intricately decorated pavilions, and vibrantly dressed street performers and floats fill the streets. The next day, called a-kya nei, everyone litters the streets to douse friends, family and passersby with water using bowls, balloons and water guns as performers provide a soundtrack and entertainment. 

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