Asian cultures around the world will mark the beginning of the new lunar year on and around January 25, 2020. It’s the time to celebrate the coming spring by honoring ancestors, gathering with family, and preparing for a symbolic fresh start.  The lunar new year is celebrated as a public holiday in Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea Macau, Mainland China, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the United States, we don’t get the day off, but in cities with significant Asian populations we might see lantern festivals, fireworks, and other colorful public celebrations.

Here at MTM LinguaSoft, our project manager Ken celebrates the holiday with his family, and as a result, we have typically defaulted to calling it Chinese New Year. Although the uniquely Chinese elements of the New Year (or Spring Festival) are probably most familiar to non-celebrants, the holiday is also celebrated in Vietnam as Tết and Korea as Seollal.

Tết, the Vietnamese New Year

Did you know that Philadelphia has the largest urban Vietnamese American population on the East Coast? If you find yourself on Washington Avenue during Tet, you will see plenty of decorations and festive displays. Among these will be the cây nêu, a New Year “tree” made of a bamboo pole decorated with good luck charms, flowers, origami, and other objects to ward off evil. Visiting friends and relatives, eating delicious traditional foods, and giving lucky money are all part of the holidays. Unfortunately,  it’s hard to find traditional decorations like peach and plum blossoms in Philadelphia in January, but you can find chrysanthemums and marigolds at the florists’.

Seollal, the Korean New Year

In Korea, the three-day lunar new year holiday is a time to come together and celebrate family. Feasting on special dishes, playing games, and exchanging gifts are all important.

SPAM is a popular New Year’s gift in Korea

One distinctive element of the Korean new year is that it’s viewed as a huge birthday celebration for everyone.  You still get your own individual birthday, of course, but on Seollal everyone turns a year older. This focus on relative age and longevity is reflected in the ritual exchange of blessings between old and young. Elders remain seated while children perform a traditional ceremonial bow and recitation. Children then receive blessings and envelopes of New Year’s money to put in their special fortune pouches. As with the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, airports and train stations are busy with throngs of travelers heading home.

Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year

Of all these, the Chinese celebrations receive the most attention in Philadelphia. Greater Philadelphia is home to over 80,000 Chinese Americans. As in many American cities, Spring Festival is generally centered in the Chinatown neighborhood.  This year, the celebration kicks off when the Midnight Lion Dance begins on Friday, January 24 at 11:30 pm at 1000 Race Street, and continues through the weekend with events all over the city to welcome in the Year of the Rat.

Happy New Year!

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới

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