Koreans know better than anyone how to party and celebrate the New Year in Korea is an experience in itself! Normally this New Year coincides with the Chinese New Year. In 2020 this will, therefore, take place on January 25. Koreans celebrate New Year with their family for 3 days. This means that they often travel outside the borders because some 7.4 million Koreans do not live in Korea.
As a Korean, you do not eat a greasy oliebol, but you start the New Year with soup and rice cake or a savory ‘jeon’, a pancake *. South Koreans also live ‘normal’ in 2019, although they live according to their own (old) era (the Dangun era) in the year 4353. It is just as many years ago that the first Korean king, named Dangun, was born.
Birthday Kim Il Sung in North Korea
A country that is so isolated from the rest of the world must almost have a separate era and that’s right! Although previously the same era as the Zuiderburen was used, the Dangun era, they decided in 1997 to keep their own era. It started on the birthday of Kim Il Sung in (us) 1912. They call their own era Juche, named after the ideology and whoever calculates well knows that 2020, Juche will be 109.
Because the new year always starts on April 15, a trip during the New Year is easy to plan. Streets are decorated and there are activities all over the country. I was in North Korea in April 2014 to experience this special day up close! Dancing in the park full of beautifully dressed North Koreans was a truly unique experience!
The Spring Festival
The most famous (not Western) New Year is of course the Chinese New Year. Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese around the world celebrate this during the first two weeks of their new year (usually late January / early February). This party is always accompanied by a lot of fireworks, which is meant to scare away evil spirits. The whole party lasts two weeks and this holiday is therefore used massively to visit family.
It is jokingly called the largest migration of people in the world in Asia. Large cities empty because many people move into the interior where often families still live. More than 350 million Chinese traveled through China during that period. When I lived and worked in Shanghai myself, this was about the only week of the year when there were more than enough seats in the metro during the morning rush hour! Wonderful that temporary rest.
Other traditions out there are house decorating, incense burning, and the traditional dragon dance. You can also see that dance in major cities worldwide where there is a “China Town”, including in The Hague, for example. The Chinese have been using our era since 1912, but before that they used their own era, starting at the coronation of the first king of China. If you count them through, the year 2020 in China would already be the year 4717. Is that why a city like Shanghai is so futuristic?
The Persian New Year Nowruz
As in most countries in Central Asia, Noruz is also an official holiday here. Nowruz is the Persian New Year and is often celebrated by Muslims worldwide around the beginning of spring (March 21). The festival’s origins lie in Persian mythology, which still has a great influence on contemporary Iran and neighboring countries. It is therefore a national holiday that is unique to experience up close. The return of the sun and light is celebrated with bonfires, fireworks, and many traditions.
Houses are cleaned and decorated, people dance and eat a lot. Almost everything around Nowruz has a symbolic meaning. For example, an apple symbolizes goodness, the candle lights and clearing/cleaning means that you remove diseases and disaster. The entire festival lasts 13 days and ends on the last day with a picnic with friends and family in the park. Staying at home on that day is an accident and since we at VNC do not wish anyone an accident, a trip during Nowruz is a unique opportunity to experience the hospitality of the locals!
Although Losar is the Tibetan Buddhist New Year, this is also a national holiday in Nepal and Bhutan. The festival takes place in February or March, depending on the complicated Tibetan calendar. Every year here is connected to an animal, similar to Chinese astrology, in which the elements also play a role (earth, water, fire, air, and heaven).
To make it even more complex, they have 3 different eras, depending on when you start counting. For example, the oldest count dates from 255 (BC). Religion plays a major role in Losar and so there is a lot of prayer and meditation. In addition, friends and family visit each other and drink plenty of barley beer, highly recommended!
Simultaneously with Losar, they celebrate Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian New Year, in Mongolia. It is also called the White Moon Festival here which is mainly a celebration of gathering. Because Mongols often lead a nomadic existence, it is precise during this festival that people come together to play games, look back and look ahead to the new year. There is also a lot of singing, dancing and of course eaten! Because the festival is called the white moon, this color is central to the traditional New Year’s meal. Think of dried yogurt, milk tea, rice, and fermented milk. That sounds pretty nice, right?