We talk about the Chinese New Year but it is also the Korean and Vietnamese (Tet). The Japanese also used to celebrate it on the traditional date – the second new moon after the winter solstice — but changed to the solar January 1 when the country began to modernise in 1872. Maybe they wanted to show they were moving from a moon-important agricultural society to a sun-clock checking industrial nation. However, they retained many of the ancient practices – just changed the date.
Korea is best at keeping the original customs – they observe a 15 day festival ranging from the first glimpse of a new moon till it reaches its fullness.
The day begins with donning traditional dress, performing the charae honoring ancestors, followed by rice cake soup, visits to elders, family meals, festival games and presents of money in red envelopes to younger people. There is no visiting on the third day as it is expected that by then everyone’s good will has been strained and everyone should take a rest.
The Chinese, maybe because of Mao’s efforts to destroy traditional culture, give less attention to ancestor on that day but share the gift-giving and red envelopes, set off more fireworks, consult fortune tellers and put more emphasis on wishes for material success such as the Cantonese, ‘Earn much money!’ popular greeting. A fish is also served at the main meal with the wish, ‘May you have fish every year’. ‘Fish’ has a similar pronunciation to ‘extra’ so the sentiment is ‘have extra every year.’
In modern China, a big event, not to be missed, is the New Year Special on China Central TV. It’s more popular than the Queen’s Christmas speech in England and the emphasis is on pure entertainment.
In Ireland for some reason we only recently paid much attention to January 1, Christmas was our New Year or, maybe, Easter.
Kim Yong-Hae in Seoul says she can find no memory of a Korean ‘Womens’ New Year’ and reminded me that the New Year was an agricultural ‘slow period’ anyhow.
The photos show what is offered to the ancestors in Korea on New Year’s morning and public greetings in Guangzhou (thanks, Garreth).