Winter Holidays/Celebrations in Asia
Written by Meira Lee and Allison Lunandy
Shougatsu (Japanese New Year)
Shougatsu is an annual tradition made by the Japanese to celebrate the end of the year. It is not a one-day celebration like most New Year traditions, Shougatsu is celebrated for three days, starting from December 31st to January 2nd. This holiday is one of the most important events in Japan; all schools, businesses, and establishments are closed for all of Shougatsu. Families and friends gather to celebrate and children are gifted Otoshidama (envelopes of money). On the first two days of Shougatsu, the people follow the Hatsumoude tradition of going to a local temple or shrine to pray for a prosperous new year. On the final day of Shougatsu, the Japanese emperor gives a speech, then allowing the public into the imperial palace.
Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, is a holiday not only celebrated in China but all over Asia. This holiday is celebrated on the Lunar calendar’s first moon day. This year, Lunar New Year is on February 12th, 2021. There are many traditions celebrated differently throughout the continent, however, some common traditions are family gatherings, giving red envelopes, fireworks, and praying. Food is an important part of Asian New Year tradition, and certain kinds of food can represent positive values for the new year. For example, fish represents abundance, sticky rice cakes represent family unity and long noodles represent a smooth year. According to the Chinese Zodiac Calendar, this upcoming year is the Year of the Ox! Those born in the years 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021, are a part of the Year of the Ox.
Christmas is a holiday celebrated all over globe, even in Asia! This holiday is celebrated every year on December 25th. Asia is home to a great diversity of cultures, including religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, and Taoism. However, this doesn’t stop Christmas to be celebrated all throughout Asia. For example in the Philippines, Christmas is celebrated from the 16th of December all through the first Sunday in January. Philipinos also usually go to early masses before Chrimsas called, “Misa de Gallo” or “Simbang Gabi”. A Christmas tradition in the Philippines is the making of a “parol” which is a Christmas star made out of bamboo strips and colored Japanese paper, which represents the star that guided the Three Wise Men. In Japan, there is a tradition to eat KFC on Christmas day. It was inspired by the tradition of eating turkey on Thanksgiving in the west. KFC’s Christmas slogan in japan is, “kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” which means, “Kentucky for Christmas!”
Thaipusam is a temple festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil descent all over Southeast Asia and India. This festival takes place on the night of the full moon in the 10th month in the Hindu calendar, which usually falls in either January or February. Thaipusam celebrates Lord Murugan, who is the Tamil god of war. Devotees of this festival and Lord Murugan celebrate Thaipusam by piercing themselves with swords or hooks, while also carrying kavadis. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, many celebrators of Thaipusam watch as skewered devotees walk and climb up 272 steps in the Batu Caves to show their dedication and devotion to Lord Murugan.
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For the 2020-21 season, REACH will be releasing a new blog post written by our officers during the first and third Wednesdays of each month about different aspects of Asian culture, such as pop culture, conflicts faced, representation in media, history, celebration and holidays, and stereotypes. We hope you enjoy reading them!