Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is one of the most important celebrations of the year for Chinese populations around the world. Festivities carry on for up to two weeks, as families come together for the traditional reunion dinner, hand out red envelopes of money and carry out rituals to banish the inauspicious spirits that have gathered over the previous year to make space for good will and good luck.
Falling on the second new moon after the winter solstice, Chinese New Year is celebrated across the Far East and Southeast Asia, where Chinese immigrants have settled or the holiday has melded with that country’s own. Each place has its own quirks in the way that they celebrate but all involve plenty of festivities that symbolise fresh beginnings and wishes for prosperity, good luck, abundance, and longevity, and highlight the importance of family and tradition.
The celebrations for Chinese New Year (10 Feb 2024, the Year of the Dragon, Jan 29 2025, the Year of the Snake) are renowned for their extravagant fireworks, lanterns, street parades, parties and delicious, symbolic food. Now, you must be thinking with such revels to be had on Southeast Asia holidays and Far East holidays, joining in the fun is a must, but where is the best place to do it? We’re so glad you asked…
In Beijing, China’s capital, it’s easy to feel 3,000 years’ worth of history at New Year as temples, like the iconic Temple of Heaven, and other places of worship fill up for traditional prayers and rituals, and parks put on cultural performances like opera and puppet shows. Around the city, carnivals and festivals pop up, usual with a colourful and chaotic dragon or lion dance, and people come together to welcome a new year and ‘turn over a new leaf’. Particular importance is placed on family and tradition at this time of year and generations gather to share food and remember their ancestors; a common sight on family homes are long red scrolls with spring couplets written in black writing with good wishes to those who reside within. Things really go with a bang as midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve – a citywide firework extravaganza begins, the bangs believed to drive away evil spirits.
In Beijing, you wish everyone “Xīnnián hǎo” (New Year goodness) during the Spring Festival.
Like Beijing, in Shanghai the New Year celebrations have hundred of years of heritage behind them. At Longhua, the oldest temple in the city, crowds gather at midnight to hear the bell ring, said to ward off evil spirits, while at other temples traditional rituals are performed throughout the festival week. Hit the Nanjing Road, already one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, to join the locals in replacing old household items in time for the new year and to take advantage of the new year deals. One of the most spectacular and popular displays in Shanghai is around Yuyuan Old Town Bazaar and the Yu Garden, where you’ll find the annual lantern illuminations. In all different shapes, colours, and sizes, you’ll spot fish for wealth and prosperity, dragons for good luck and plenty of the animal of the new year (dragon in 2024, snake in 2025) on display, and performers walking through the park with ornate lanterns too.
In Shanghai, you wish everyone “Xīnnián hǎo” (New Year goodness) during the Spring Festival.
Chinese New Year brings an extra vibrancy to the streets of Hong Kong. Floral decorations appear all over the place, featuring beautiful orchids, peach blossom and pussy willow, all plants believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Locals also fill their houses with fresh flowers, bought from the flower markets that pop up around the city – check out the blooms at the biggest in Victoria Park at Causeway Bay. Temples open their doors to the crowds of people wishing to start the year with worships or traditional rituals, and if you head to the village of Lam Tsuen in the New Territories, you can write a wish on a piece of joss paper and tie it to a wooden rack in the hopes that it’ll come true in the coming year. Many Hongkongers take advantage of the holiday to get out into Hong Kong’s great outdoors to hike while others attend the Annual Chinese New Year Race Day at Sha Tin to watch the horse racing. As night falls the celebrations truly kick off with extravagant parades like the one in Tsim Sha Tsui, with brightly lit floats, performers and dancers making their way along the harbour front and a huge firework display over Victoria Harbour.
In Hong Kong, you wish people “gong hei fat choy” (wishing you prosperity) at New Year.
At Chinese New Year, the whole of Singapore succumbs to non-stop revelry in a fantastic exhibition of the melding of modern ideas and old traditions. Across the city, activities and displays pop up, like the annual Chinese New Year floral display at the Gardens by the Bay and the performances and carnivals of the Marina Bay Floating Platform and Esplanade Waterfront Promenade. There’s also the annual Chingay Parade with its dazzling floats, colourful costumes, illuminations, installations, live performances and more to add plenty of ‘wow’ to your new year. While New Year’s celebrations take place across Singapore, things get really big and glitzy in the city’s Chinatown. The events begin the month prior to the big day, with a switch on of the red and gold lanterns and lights that festoon the enclave’s old streets, followed by shows, carnivals, bazaars and even the International Lion Dance competition. One of the highlights is the sprawling outdoor food market hosted on Smith Street where locals and visitors alike can delight in some seriously delicious foods, including many traditional ones.
You might hear “gong xi fa cai” (Mandarin) or “gong hei fat choy” (Cantonese) while celebrating in Singapore.
Showing the richness of their culture in Penang’s George Town, where the majority the Chinese population are Hokkien Chinese, some of the New Year celebrations are unique. The city is ablaze with light, the streets of Chinatown hung with decorations that feature pineapples, the Hokkien symbol of prosperity, among the red banners and lanterns. Historic clan houses, with their distinct Chinese architecture, are illuminated in oranges and reds while Kek Lok Si Temple is spectacularly draped in thousands of lights and lanterns. In the town squares people gather to watch cultural performance or take part in cultural workshops and there are plenty of parades, lion and dragon dances and fireworks to enjoy too. Head to the Ban Ka Lan Snake Temple to see the fascinating flame watching ceremony, the fire said to forecast the economic prospects of the state for the coming year.
You can give New Year greetings in Hokkien by saying “Kiōnghì hua’tcái”.
In Japan’s largest Chinatown, Yokohama, and oldest Chinatown, Nagasaki, the Chinese New Year celebrations are as red and brightly illuminated as those in China itself. Shinichi Chukagai, in Nagasaki, puts on a huge lantern parade, with over 15,000 lanterns that range from small and intricate to huge and shaped like the zodiac animals, a definite. In Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, there is a midnight countdown in Yamashitacho Park and a spectacular lantern display. Both have lion dances, activities, installations, performers in historic costumes and plenty of food stalls serving traditional foods. In true Japanese style, you can expect to find new year themed sweet treats all over the country, like wagashi or small cakes shaped like the zodiac animal of the year.
You might hear “gong xi fa cai” (Mandarin), “gong hei fat choy” (Cantonese) or even “hinnen omedetô gozaimasu” (Japanese) while celebrating in Japan.
Other Lunar New Year celebrations take place on the same day as Chinese New Year, like Tet in Vietnam and Seollal in South Korea. While they all have similar themes, around new beginnings and fortune and prosperity for the coming year, each has its own traditions. If you’re in South Korea around Seollal, the Korean Folk Village throws a Fortune Party with traditional folk games, foods, and activities. If you’re in Vietnam for Tet, you’ll get to enjoy magnificent firework displays, especially in capital Hanoi – try Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter, for the biggest and brightest.