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Celebrating the Spring Festival in Southeast Asia

Editor: Tong Xinxin 丨CCTV.com

02-04-2016 14:54 BJT

By Ling Dequan, Researcher, Center for World Affairs Studies, Xinhua News Agency 

China has over a thousand-year history of exchanges with Southeast Asian nations. The ancient maritime Silk Road were key routes for trade and people-to-people exchanges between China and Southeast Asia. 

For thousands of years, Chinese cultural customs and traditions such as celebrating Spring Festival have been  widely known and practiced in Southeast Asia. 

January 1st on the lunar calendar is the Spring Festival (Chunjie). The Chinese celebrate the festival, from New Year's Eve to January 15 of the lunar calendar. Impacted by the Chinese culture, people from Southeast Asian countries also celebrate the holiday.

Vietnam: Vietnam and China are neighbors, linked by mountains and rivers, which share cultural similarities.  The Vietnamese of all ethnic groups celebrate the Spring Festival as an official holiday. 

The day is called, Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnamese, or just “festival” in English. The Vietnamese can enjoy four days off - New Year's Eve, January 1, 2, and 3, plus Saturday and Sunday for exchange rests.

Tet Nguyen Dan customs are similar to how it's celebrated in southern China. Festivities start on December 23 of the lunar calendar. 

People stay up all night for a family reunion dinner on New Year's Eve. On January 1, they greet their relatives and friends and go to the fair. 

During the Spring Festival, people return home from the cities. Family members gather to worship ancestors and pray for good luck. The Vietnamese eat peaches, kumquat and dumplings. In Chinatowns of Ho Chi Minh City and other cities, people watch dragon and lion dances.

Singapore: The ethnic Chinese account for nearly 80% of the City-state’s population of Singapore. Spring Festival is the most important holiday of the year. Singaporeans have inherited Chinese customs that are similar to southern China. 

They  enjoy an official fourday holiday off on the festival holiday: two statutory days plus two weekend days.  After Christmas day, the streets and business districts are decorated with Chinese traditional Spring Festival ornaments. 

Large and small red lanterns appear all over the streets. A steady stream of shoppers go to traditional stores for special purchases and many sing traditional songs on the streets. Singaporeans greet each other during the Spring Festival. 

Instead of offering expensive gifts, they hold two oranges when visiting friends, since an  orange stands for good luck, because it is pronounced as “luck” in Chinese. 

Malaysia: Muslims are Malaysia's main ethnic group. The ethnic Chinese account for about a quarter of the population. 

January 1-2 of the lunar calender are official holidays. They share similar customs to the Chinese.  Many local Chinese are from  Fujian Province in south China. They buy pineapples, since it is pronounced as prosperity in the southern Fujian dialect.

Thailand: Thailand is a Buddhist country. The New Year for the Buddhist calendar is the biggest festival for the country - Water-Sprinkling Festival, on April 14-16. 

Spring Festival in Thailand is on January 1-3 on the lunar calendar. It’s an official three-day holiday, but government officials must work on those days. 

Chinese ethnic groups play an important role in Thai society. And there are about six or seven million Chinese living in Thailand, accounting for about ten percent of the population.  The most important activity for Thai-Chinese on New Year's Eve is the ancestral rites. 

They place various offerings, candlesticks, and censers on a small altar at home. After lighting candles, family members worship their ancestors, one by one. 

The first activity for Thai-Chinese on January 1 is to worship and give donations in temples to pray for seasonable weather to raise crops and ask for family members’ safety. 

Myanmar: Myanmar is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country with about 2.5 million overseas Chinese. The New Year on the Buddhist calendar is the biggest festival in the country. January 1 on the lunar calendar is an official holiday.

Chinatown in Yangon is crowded. Shopping malls are decorated with lights and lanterns. 

Shops and restaurants are filled with promotional activities and conspicuous goods. Vivid couplets and window paper-cuts for window decorations are on full display. Fruits and desserts are popular in the markets. 

Dragon and lion dances are important activities for overseas Chinese. In Yangon’s Chinatown, dragon and lion dance competitions go on for several days. Dragon and lion dance teams from all parts of Burma participate.

Indonesia: Indonesia has the largest population in Southeast Asia. The majority are Muslims. Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia are fewer than in Malaysia. 

On February 18, 2000, the President of The Republic of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, had abolished a ban that prohibited the Chinese from openly-celebrating the Chinese Spring Festival and Lantern Festival.  The New Year on lunar calendar is a  national holiday. 

In several other countries, due to the relatively small proportion of the Chinese, the Spring Festival is not an important local festival. 

However, many local Chinese still celebrate the Spring Festival. In the Philippines, a majority of the population  are Christians and Chinese account for about 12% of the population. 

In 2004, Manila declared the Spring Festival a national holiday, but no day off for citizens. Schools for the Chinese are on holidays of the Chinese New Year's Eve and January 1 of the lunar calendar. 

Cambodia and Laos are Buddhist countries. The Buddhist calendar New Year is the most important holiday.  The January 1 of the lunar month is not a national holiday, but Chinese employers in Cambodia and Laos do give employees a holiday. 

Although Brunei is a Muslim country with Chinese as ethnic minorities, January 1 of the lunar calendar is a national holiday.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



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Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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