One of the most internationally celebrated events in the year, Chinese New Year approaches once more. Due to its alignment with the lunisolar calendar and traditions tied with ancient zodiac animals, the celebrations alter slightly year by year and no two countries celebrate the same. The new year festivities are traditionally 15 days long, leading up to the first full moon of the year, but invariably, the true celebrations are anywhere between two to eight days. Cities string red lanterns across the streets, put up exorbitant red displays and set off firecrackers to light the sky and scare away the bad things. Ethnic Chinese and the citizens of China often go to temple and burn paper models and symbols to send off to their ancestors, have their fortunes told, clean the house to sweep away the bad luck of the year prior, and most importantly, see their families. Visitors don’t necessarily need to adhere to these philosophies and practices, but they can join the festivities where the festivities are held. For the biggest celebrations of Chinese New Year in Asia, check out these seven places.
Quieter than many of the other cities in the area with large ethnic Chinese populations, the celebrations in Kuala Lumpur are a little more reserved out on the street. Celebrators crowd temples like Thean Hou, a gorgeous and ornately decorated six-tiered syncretic temple located in Robson Heights, to pay respects to the gods, light joss sticks and burn papercuts for their ancestors and admire the decorations. Malls also get a touch of decor and host small celebrations and in the evenings, people begin to stream through the streets to enjoy the open air markets and light fireworks.
Chinatown, Singapore – photo by bonnie
The biggest celebration of Chinese tradition is even bigger in the Chinatown area of Singapore. It’s big in the rest of Singapore as well, but the bulk of the festivities occur along the glowing streets of pre-war shophouses, temples, clan houses and a phenomenal outdoor food market. Lights and lanterns in red and gold are strewn across the Victorian and Baroque architecture, and parades helped by lions dance through the streets. The month that follow the Opening Ceremony leading up to the official new year, Chinatown hosts various events and performances including the International Lion Dance Competition, street bazaars, acrobatic carnival shows, and nightly parties and shows. All the while, visitors can go back to and from the Smith Street’s huge open air food market to try out local delicacies in a totally casual and festive environment. Over by the water, around Marina Bay Floating Platform and the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade, local performances and a rolling carnival erupt in lanterns and lights, celebrating the first 11 days of the new year.
Bangkok is home to Thailand’s largest Chinatown and therefore takes happy responsibility for hosting Thailand’s biggest celebration of the lunar new year. Members of the Chinese community take a day off work to pray to the gods and pay respect to the ancestors, and go into town to worship, crack fireworks, admire the dragon dancers and enjoy the huge Chinese banquets. The already bright signs of Chinatown get the red lantern treatment and the streets open up with more food stalls than usual while the parade charges through. Chinese New Year draws millions of visitors from all over to celebrate with the Thai-Chinese communities, and the parades and cultural performances highlight the legacy of Chinese culture in Thailand. The beginning of the celebration is usually opened by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Hong Kong, an already colorful city, gets a red kick right around the days leading up to the new year. The night parade in Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the biggest attractions, kicking off the new year. It’s brightly lit float after brightly lit float, following performance artists and dancers along the harborfront sending down a rain of confetti and elaborate decorations. Families with young children can make their Happy New Year even happier at Hong Kong Disneyland, which has organized Chinese New Years events and attractions as well as Mickey and his crew rocking traditional Chinese garb. One night during the festival, hit the Peak at the top of Hong Kong Island and receive blessings at their Wheel of Fortune attraction as well as catch incredible panoramic views of Central, Victoria Harbour Lamma Island and more. During the day, visitors can wander the flower markets and temples, and indulge in the offerings from the local street markets.
Shanghai, Eastern China – photo by Jackie Pennington
Shanghai is a visitor-friendly destination to capture the centuries old traditions of the new year. Locals and tourists alike go to see the gorgeous lantern displays at Yuyuan Old Town Bazaar, ring the bells, burn joss sticks at the City God Temple which dates to the year 1403 or Longhua Temple, which was first built in 242 AD, and crowd Nanjing Road, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, to go on a spree to replace old household items and lap up the Chinese New Year deals to get fresh for the new year. Performers and models wearing traditional cheongsam go walk through the Yuyuan Garden holding ornately decorated lanterns to celebrate the Lantern Festival, which opens the spring season and is considered the Chinese version of Valentine’s day.
Georgetown, Penang Island – photo by mk
On Chinese New Year, George Town, on the Malaysian island of Penang, bursts into light. Strings of red lanterns drape high over Kek Lok Si Temple, the town squares are filled with revelers and every major kongsi, or clan house, which are still consistent with classic Chinese architecture, is lit aglow with bright LEDs in vibrant reds and oranges. This 15 day celebration draws visitors from all over the world and entertains them with deity parades, fireworks and lion and dragon dances. For comfortable and unique accommodations, look for the historic waterfront Jetty houses, owned by individual Chinese family clans.
Beijing, Northern China – photo by thaiphong
The mother of all Lunar New Year celebrations, almost literally, Beijing hosts a long string of carnivals, festivals, worship ceremonies and parties in town squares, parks and temples. Unlike the New Year and Spring Lantern festivals of the new world and Europe thrown by immigrant communities of Chinese, the festival scene in Beijing and surrounding areas in China places special importance on the idea of family and historical tradition. Families in Beijing spend the end of the year cleaning and decorating their houses to prepare for the coming 12 months and use the first two days of the festival to visit family. Much time is spent honoring ancestors and praying to the gods in temples. Around town, the atmosphere of festive New Year is enrichened by historic buildings and temples dating back to the 1700s. There’s the Heaven-worshipping ceremony at the Temple of Heaven, a ritual that dates back to 1748 with performers dressed in period Qing dynasty garb, the Temple Fairs held in temple parks around the city (this tradition dates back to around 1000 AD) where people crowd the parks and admire the lion dancers, folk performances, drum shows and parades and play games and delight in the vast array of local foods being sold. Recently, however, more places have been throwing their own twist on the celebrations: check out the illuminated ice sculptures at the Yanguing Ice Festival during the lantern festival. On the eve of the New Year, citizens ignite the sky with explosions of fireworks all over the city, which lasts for a very long time.