Celebrations welcoming the New Year in Asian countries are an interesting blend of global traditions and local cultural influences. A curious aspect of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Asia is that there are usually two kinds of celebrations associated with the New Year and elements from both these celebrations are borrowed and combined to form a composite that is unique and refreshing. There is usually a local festival according to the local calendar which celebrates the New Year according to age old traditions and there is also the global New Year according to the Gregorian calendar. Mostly, both these celebrations do not coincide or happen on the same day which means that most Asian countries celebrate New Year twice, once with the rest of the world and on another day, according to their local calendar.
So there is the Chinese New Year which usually is associated with an animal such as the snake, the dog or the pig or a mythical creature like the dragon. Then there is the Thai New Year called Songkran where people bless each other with water or the Balinese New Year, Nyepi which is observed with silence and meditation to keep away evil spirits from the island. Also across the length and breadth of India, there are numerous New Year festivals, each celebrated in a different fashion.
Therefore it is natural for practices, cultural traditions and rituals observed during the local New Year to be transposed and woven into the New Year’s Eve celebrations across the Asian countries as they join the world in welcoming the New Year.
A night when the skies turn bright over many cities
In Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai, to mention just some of the cities in Asia with the most iconic skylines, people gather in tens of thousands to witness some of the most spectacular fireworks and light displays. Stunning light shows adorn the skyscrapers while pyrotechnic displays illuminate the night skies attracting hordes of tourists and local enthusiasts.
Traditionally, the New Year’s Eve countdown in Hong Kong’s famed Victoria Harbour has been compared to the globally renowned celebrations that take place in New York’s Times Square, and is a major tourist attraction. In recent years, the New Year’s Eve fireworks and lights display at the Marina Bay waterfront in Singapore and at the iconic Burj Khalifa building in Dubai are some of the popular destinations in Asia vying for prominence.
Some of the other important cities that have made a splash with their spectacular New Year’s Eve displays include Taipei with its Taipei 101 skyscraper and Kuala Lumpur with its Petronas Twin Towers providing a stunning backdrop as the night sky comes alive with thousands of bright lights.
An opportunity to join the world
However, it’s not all pomp and splendour, as Yangoon steps on the global stage to celebrate New Year’s Eve with the rest of the world creating cultural and historic milestones. The celebrations that took place in Yangoon, the capital of Myanmar had historical and political significance because it was the first time in many years that the country was celebrating New Year after many decades of military rule. In Japan, the New Year Celebrations are tempered with local cultural influence as rituals are held according to Buddhist traditions and the people follow the monks in praying for health and prosperity. In Bali and Thailand, colourful parades and processions with folk dancers create a carnival atmosphere that has an inimitable local flavour. In India and many parts of South Asia, amongst modern day fireworks display and countdown traditions, local cultural influences still hold sway with people attending dance, drama and music concerts.
A time to rejoice and taste the local flavour
New Year’s Eve is an appropriate moment to get to know local traditions and cultures as well as indulge in the local cuisine. In many cities in China, many special Chinese dishes are prepared in restaurants and food courts allowing visitors and residents to enjoy them. These include the Jiao Zi or dumplings, long noodles and cakes. Most of these dishes have some symbolic meaning. So for examples, dishes made from eggs signify fertility and fish indicate abundance or prosperity.
In Japan, people eat inordinately long noodles called Toshi Koshi Soba which signifies longevity. An interesting practice in Japan is to prepare the special food meant for New Year’s Eve much in advance in order to ensure that no mishaps such as cutting or burning oneself does not occur while cooking which may be construed as bad luck if it occurs on New Year’s Eve.
Most of these practices were originally associated with local festive celebrations but have now been transposed and linked to the international New Year celebrations, thus renewing age-old local cultural traditions with a new kind of relevance—one that signifies a brand-new beginning in people’s life around Asia and the world.