Until I started traveling to many other countries, it never occurred to me that the New Year is celebrated at many other times during the year besides January 1. As I have talked about in previous articles, my husband and I are retired and slow-traveling the world. We make travel videos for our YouTube travel channel Far Away Now (formerly Over the Hill and Far Away).
We have been making our way around Southeast Asia for nine months now. This has offered us many great experiences and wonderful memories. We always try to absorb the culture and join in on any celebrations where we feel it’s appropriate and welcomed.
It has been especially interesting as we just had our fourth New Year’s celebration in the last seven months. Different cultures celebrate New Year’s at many different times. Some use the Gregorian calendar like we do in the West, some use the Lunar or Solar calendars, and some use the Buddhist calendar, for a few examples.
We encountered our first New Year’s celebration in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in October. This was for Deepavali, also called Duwali, or the Hindu Festival of Lights. Deepavali celebrates the beauty and goodness of life, the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, and hope over despair. An official government holiday, October 24 marked the day, but the celebrations were a weeklong event.
Each day has a different significance, with the fourth day being the first day of the New Year in the Vikram Samvat calendar. Government buildings, shopping malls, businesses, and homes had beautiful rangoli (sand paintings) done in bright colors on display on the floor near their entry ways. Celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jainists, and Newar Buddhists, the celebrations are family and home centered.
Festivities include family gatherings to light the home, prayer, fireworks, and feasting. Family, friends, and business associates exchange gifts and are encouraged to rid themselves of hate, anger, and jealousy.
Malaysia is a cultural melting pot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian peoples, and the Little India section of Kuala Lumpur was spectacularly decorated. If you’re as big a fan of Indian food as I am, I don’t even need to say more about the wonderful cuisine.
Our second New Year’s was celebrated in very much the typical way. We celebrated on December 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was pretty much the same type of New Year’s Eve we would have had back in the U.S.
We went out for a nice dinner, followed by a drink and some live music. There were parties happening in many bars and restaurants and stages set up with live music at different venues, but we headed back to our Airbnb apartment.
Our balcony on the 26th floor gave us a great vantage point to watch the fireworks going off around the city. Known worldwide for its shopping malls, there is so much more to see and do in Kuala Lumpur than shop. Please check out our video of Kuala Lumpur.
Our third New Year’s celebration took place in Hoi An, Vietnam. This UNESCO World Heritage City is beautiful any time of year. With its lovely golden yellow French colonial buildings and streets strung with silk lanterns, the additional New Year’s decorations really sent it over the top.
Decorated for the Lunar new year of Tet, or Chinese New Year, the whole town was covered in fresh flowers and potted Mandarin orange trees loaded with tiny oranges. In China, it’s the Year of the Rabbit, but Vietnam celebrates the Year of the Cat.
This is a very family centered holiday, and most people try to return to their hometown to celebrate. Tet is a weeklong celebration with parties and fireworks every night. A big stage was set up about two blocks from our hotel featuring live performances every night of either popular bands, cultural performances, comedians, or local school orchestras and choirs.
Food vendors line the market streets every night, but they took it up a notch for Tet and the food was phenomenal! See our video of Hoi An here. If you’re ever thinking of traveling Vietnam, Hoi An is a must see.
Our fourth New Year’s celebration just happened in Bangkok, Thailand. The Songkran Festival, or the water festival, celebrates the Buddhist New Year. The water festival started in the 13th century as a ritual purification to start the New Year with a clean soul, home, and body.
Somehow, over the centuries, it has become one of the biggest water celebrations in the world. We definitely wanted to join in on this and one of the rules is that you’re supposed to wear bright colors for luck in the New Year. Vendors selling brightly colored flowered shirts set up a few days before the festival. They also started selling water guns of all sizes and shapes.
Around 11:00 am we put on our colorful shirts and headed out. We bought water guns and headed to the designated area in our neighborhood, the streets were blocked off to traffic, and the fun began. Vendors with huge barrels of cold water set up along the street to refill people’s water gun for about the equivalent of five cents.
At first it was just kids that would run up and squirt whoever they got, giggle, get squirted back, then they would run off, shouting, “Happy Songkran.” As more people started to turn up, it quickly became a full-on water dousing. There were people from all over the world and from all age groups.
Only three groups are off limits to being doused: babies, the very elderly, and monks. And there were plenty of senior citizens in on the action too. It was all great fun and not mean-spirited in any way. Four hours later, back at our hotel, we were completely soaked, worn out, and joy-filled.
It was just good, clean, silly fun, and it carried on until midnight. The crowd was very welcoming and a lot of fun; I’m so glad we participated.
The water dousing takes place every day of the festival. Are you still up for a good old fashioned squirt gun fight?
The first day of the festival was April 13, this is designated for cleaning the home. Sweeping out the old year and any bad luck, making it ready to receive good luck in the new year.
The second day of the festival, people prepare food and offerings to be given to monks the following day. It is also a day to pay respect to your elders and get their blessings. This new year follows the Buddhist calendar, so on Friday, April 14 when the sun moved from Aries into Pieces, the year changed to 2567. They really are on a different calendar!
The third day people visit their local temples and present food and clothing to the monks. They receive blessings and participate in rituals for good luck in the new year.
Have you ever participated in another culture’s holiday celebration? If so, what did you learn? Are you planning on visiting another country and learning about their culture this year?