Asian Holidays: A Multi-Sensorial Experience
Asian Holidays are plentiful as well as fascinatingly diverse. They can significantly vary due to their history, culture, tradition, religion, location, season or specific celebratory reason. Spread widely throughout Asia, these festivities can take place both in major cities or small towns and even at the most recondite unspoiled spots. What is certain is that, no matter where or when in Asia you find yourselves in, some exhilarating event is most likely to take place around the corner.
Asia’s substantial amount of holidays is truly overwhelming. Ranging from seasonal holidays based on Lunisolar Calendars (meaning that their dates do not always fall on the same days, and can considerably change every year or even differ depending on the region), to cultural festivals, to nature observances and religious traditions, to an extensive number of national holidays pertaining every country.
However, we have enlisted only Asian festivities that stand out from the rest, as they are accessible to a broader demographic and not just for the locals.
By no specific order of preference, we have comprised the most popular, largest and most interesting holidays and festivals in Asia.
Let us begin with the superlative of them all. Of course we are referring to The Chinese New Year. This is known to be the largest, most popular and most broadly-celebrated Asian Holiday, not only across China but all over Asia and the world. It takes such an extent that has even managed to make its way into several western cities as to become a huge and mandatory celebration every year. For instance: Sydney, London, Toronto and San Francisco are known to be the largest; just to name a few.
The Chinese New Year is the most important Chinese festival, which is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar. It is also commonly known as the Spring festival. The celebrations for this traditionally go from Chinese New Year's Eve (the last day of the last month according to the Chinese calendar), to the Lantern festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month). With reference to the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, anywhere between January 21st and February 20th. It is known as the longest festival in the Chinese culture.
Digging a bit deeper into some of its historical facts, Chinese New Year is centuries old as it dates from the reign of the3rd millennium BCE of the Yellow Emperor, and gains importance due to several myths and traditions. The festival was traditionally held as an event to honor specific deities as well as family ancestors. The Chinese New Year is observed as a public holiday in China and other Asian countries with significant Chinese residents, such as Singapore, Mauritius, Thailand and the Philippines, among others.
The highlights of this massive festival include the worldwide famous Lion and Dragon dances, its unique traditional food, customary practices such as the red envelopes and gift exchange, open-air markets or village fairs, incredible fireworks displays, autochthonous music, typical clothing, and taking the family portrait, which is an important ceremony for the natives. The most notorious symbol of the festival is the Fu character (literally: blessings, happiness), which symbolizes the arrival of fortune, happiness, and prosperity. Usually printed or painted on red diamond-shaped paper cuts, which are displayed on the entrances of Chinese homes.
Celebrating one of the most eye-catching seasonal and natural phenomena, we have the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival. This ancient tradition takes place between the months of March and May, and the date of the flower blooming is forecast each year, giving people enough time for preparation. This festival is known by the name “Hanami” in Japan, and it actually means 'flower viewing'. Whole families and groups of friends get together for picnics and parties in parks under blooming cherry blossoms. You can see gatherings and tea ceremonies under trees, people chanting folk songs and even dancing. There are many beauty pageants, and even awe inspiring parades that add to the festive atmosphere.
Then there is the Chinese Lantern Festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month (based on the lunisolar calendar). The Lantern Festival usually falls in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. It dates from as early as theWestern Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and over the decades has become a festival with major significance.
The most relevant activity performed and which names this festival, is the main event of releasing a dazzling canopy of thousands ofChinese sky lanterns that serves as a backdrop for the night sky and the bright full moon. For being such a colorful and enriching experience, it is considered the most recreational among all the Chinese holidays and also a day for appreciating the reunion with family, relatives, friends and close ones.
Last but not least, there’s Thailand: a country vastly rich in culture and tradition, where a main holiday stands out. Songkran or Thai Water Festival. It is a three-day event (although sometimes it is extended to six days) celebrated annually on April 13th - 15th. The traditional Thai New Year is the Songkran festival or the "astrological passage". It is also the largest celebration in Thailand, and also the largest water fight in the world. The origin of Songkran is more religious, splashing water over complete strangers has become the main attraction of the festival. The tradition of water pouring is about cleaning, purification, and fresh starts, as it is meant as a symbol of washing away all of their sins, bad thoughts, and actions, in order to bring them good luck in the new year. Also participating in Songkran, getting wet serves as a great excuse and fun alternative to escape the scorching temperatures of April, the hottest month of the year, where afternoon temperatures regularly rise above 38° Celsius. So you probably won't mind the drenching! Elders are honored by pouring water respectfully over their hands.
If you are already considering on taking your next vacations to the next level, and decide to attend to any of the eastern countries’ festivals, no matter which Asian Holidays you choose, you are most certainly in for a treat, and you are ensured to have a multi-sensorial experience.