Ha Lan Vien
As Vietnam celebrates with its Tet traditions, other countries around the region will also be welcoming the Lunar New Year in unique ways.
Seollal – Korea
Like the Vietnamese, people of the Land of Morning Calm regard their Lunar New Year – Seollal – as an occasion for family reunions. Traffic piles up and ticket prices soar as millions of people return to their home provinces to reunite with their families. An integral part of the celebration is a family meal meant to honor ancestors and welcome in the New Year. A full menu of meat, fish and vegetables is common, but the signature new year’s dish is tteokguk – a traditional rice cake soup that symbolizes saying farewell to the old year and bringing good luck for the new. Another special dish, a fried crepe called jeon, brings a sense of togetherness as family members gather around the table to share the crispy and crunchy treat.
Despite being the country’s high-tech, hyper-modern image, Koreans still take pride in donning their traditional garb, the flamboyant hanbok, on the first day of the Lunar New Year to take part in folk games and festivals all over the country.
Tsagaan Sar – Mongolia
Mongolians usually celebrate their traditional Lunar New Year, Tsagaan Sar, in February. This year it falls on February 26, nearly one month later than in Vietnam. The traditional feast is a lavish collection of dairy products, steamed dumplings called buuz, grilled lamb, salty milk tea, and special New Year cookies erected in a pyramid shape of many layers. Mongolians believe that each layer is a token of the joys or sorrows of an entire year. (Since the bottom layer is symbolic of joy, families arrange the cookies to have an odd number of layers so that the top one will be representing joy as well.)
At New Year’s parties, guests and family members perform a year-opening ritual of the traditional zolgokhgreeting, gently embracing each other’s arms then touching others’ cheeks with their noses while wishing for peace and wellness. While red is the traditional New Year color in China and Vietnam, many Mongolians hold a blue silk cloth, meant to symbolize the sky, while offering greetings.
Losar – Tibet
While many other Asian Lunar New Year celebrations last three days, Losar in Tibet can last half a month. This year, Losar falls on February 27, just one day later than Mongolian Tsagaan Sar. On this occasion, shamans will perform blessing rituals and don frightening masks for a traditional gumpa dance to ward off evil spirits.
Tibetan families prepare for their New Year celebrations by cleaning the house to cleanse themselves of any bad thoughts from the old year. A special noodle dish called guthuk is made with nine different types of ingredients, including grain and dried cheese. Dough balls are also given out with different fillings such as chili, wool, salt, rice or coal. Those who receive a dough ball containing a white filling such as wool, salt or rice should be pleased because it signifies good luck all year long. But dough balls carrying a speck of coal inside correspond to a bad omen. And if you receive one with chili, it means you were too talkative last year!
Lunar New Year – China and Chinese communities
China and other countries with large Chinese communities always celebrate their vibrant Lunar New Year with upbeat lion dance troupes, noisy wishes of material prosperity and bright red all over the place, from red silk tunics to bright “lucky money” envelopes in children’s hands. From Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore to Malaysia and the Philippines, Chinese families prepare lavish meals comprised of roasted pork, jams, fruit trays, dumplings, glutinous rice cakes and more. Each food has a symbolic meaning: noodles, for example, represent longevity and smoothness. Round foods, from cakes to meatballs and fish balls are also presented to represent a full and happy year. Sesame is sprinkled over foods, including salads, soups and desserts, implying a belief that good luck and fortune will multiply in the year to come.
Some countries also enjoy a “Prosperity Salad” for the New Year. The entire family will gather around the colorful dish and toss its ingredients up in the air while wishing for good fortune.