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5 Must-See New Year Celebrations Across Different Cultures in 2024

Hong Kong-Hong Kong

| 11 mins read

Imagine celebrating New Year not just on 1st January but all year round! Sounds exciting, right?

Interestingly, different cultures worldwide have different dates to celebrate New Year, depending on their respective calendars. Nevertheless, each celebration is steeped in traditions, deep religious symbolism and an event that is looked forward to throughout the year. 

In this blog, we introduce you to the five extraordinary New Year festivities from different cultural calendars in 2024. Be it the vibrant lights of India's Diwali, the lanterns of China's Spring Festival, the ancient rituals of Nowruz or the Persian New Year, each festival will offer an experience unique to itself. 

Chinese New Year or The Spring Festival (10th February 2024)

Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year in China paints a picture of streets and homes decorated or painted in red (red symbolises prosperity and good luck), bustling parades of dragon and lion dances, a show of firecrackers, and family and friends exchanging New Year festivities. It marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunisolar calendar, and the observances traditionally start on New Year's Eve and end on the 15th day of the year with the Chinese Lantern Festival. 

Do you know that the tradition of giving red envelopes containing money is intrinsic to the festival? According to legend, a demon named Sui scared a child on New Year's Eve, and the child caught a fever. The child's parents then wrapped coins in red paper and placed them next to the child's pillow. So when Sui came, the flash of the coin scared him away. Since then, in the Chinese tradition, these red envelopes have become "yasuiqian" (the money used to suppress or put down the evil spirit). 

An elder giving a red envelope to the girl

What more to explore? 

Apart from the festival, China is a land of beautiful attractions that can be seen throughout the year. In the capital city of Beijing, you can see one of the Seven Wonders of the World- the Great Wall of China, the world-famous Forbidden City (offering a glimpse into China's imperial past), the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace (an imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty) and the enchanting 798 Art Zone, which showcases the talent of ancient and modern Chinese artists. Additionally, the Bund area in Shanghai offers a more contemporary glimpse, where the historic buildings meet the modern skyline. Shanghai is also a perfect place for a guided gastronomic experience, where you must try Xiaolongbao, Di Shui Dong ribs and braised eggplant. Xi'an, apart from the Terracotta Army, is also great for a culinary journey; interestingly, due to the presence of the Muslim Quarter, you can see the blend of traditional Chinese and Islamic cuisine. Moreover, art explorers can visit Suzhou to witness the art of silk-making. For connecting with nature and the cultural and historical wonders of China all at the same time, Yunnan is a great option. The Old Town of Lijiang, Shuhe Ancient Town, Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Lugu Lake are amongst the most popular. Beyond these, China offers an array of other destinations like Guilin, the city of Chengdu, Mount Emei, and much more!

Baofeng Lake

Korean New Year or Seollal (10th February 2024)

Falling on the second new moon after the winter solstice, Seollal is one of Korea's most significant traditional holidays. The New Year is a special day of family reunions with people wearing traditional attire called Hanbok, exchanging gifts, and sharing the special meal of Tteokguk (a rice cake soup), traditionally believed to increase one's age by a year!

One of the main traditions in the Korean New Year is sebae. Sebae refers to a traditional ritual where the young ones deeply bow and pay respect to the elders in the family. An expression of gratitude, sebae, is performed on the morning of Seollal. In return, elders bestow blessings and give sebaetdon (gifts) to the younger family members. 

Fireworks in Seoul

What more to explore?

South Korea is a country rich in history, cuisine, culture, and art, which will leave an unforgettable mark on anybody visiting here. Although there is a lot to explore in South Korea, there are a few experiences that one should not miss. For instance, witnessing the reenactment of the royal ceremonies at Seoul's Gyeongbokgung Palace is a one-of-its-kind experience. Additionally, you must visit the National Folk Museum of Korea, the Gwangjang Market (for an authentic cultural experience), and the N Seoul Tower and trace the history of the Korean War at the Korea War Memorial. Take advantage of the traditional houses of the Buckchon Hanok Village in Seoul. For those interested in exploring art, you must see the marvellous contemporary art at the Busan Museum of Art, and for a more relaxed experience, spend some time in Jeju, a combination of natural beauty and cultural festivities. Its celebration of the formation of Jeju (the Jeju Fire Festival) attracts many tourists every year. Also, Incheon is a haven for beach enthusiasts, and the famous Incheon Fish Market is a bustling marketplace, which is also the starting place for popular boat tours. 

N Seoul Tower

Persian New Year or Nowruz (20th March 2024)

Another beautiful New Year festival is Nowruz, or the Persian New Year, which marks the first day of the spring and the Iranian calendar. Legend has it that the roots of the festival go back 3,000 years and that it is a reflection of renewal, rebirth, and the interconnectedness of nature and human life. Today, the festival is celebrated by worldwide Iranian ethnic groups, for whom this festival holds a deeper religious significance than being merely a holiday!

Do you know the tradition of the Haft-Seen table is intrinsic to the festival? Tracing its origin to one of the world's oldest religions, Zoroastrianism, the Haft-Seen table tradition refers to the practice of adorning the table with seven specific items, each beginning with the Persian letter 'S' (Seen). These items are believed to represent key virtues and wishes for the new year. 

The Haft-Seen Table

What more to explore?

A journey to Iran, any day, is a journey into one of the world's oldest civilisations that exposes you to rich culture, stories, and a unique way of life. From Tehran's bustling capital to the major cities of Shiraz and Isfahan, there cannot be a day in Iran when you are not encapsulated by amazement. Inspired by the usual 8-day popular Iran itinerary, you can start in Tehran to visit the Golestan Palace (which offers a glimpse into Iran's royal past), Azadi Tower, the stunning Treasury of National Jewels, and the Park-e Laleh and Park-e Jamshidieh for a serene leisure time. Moreover, the Grand Bazaar is the go-to place for an authentic market and culinary experience. Moving ahead, explore Dowlat Abad Garden and Jameh Mosque and delve into the ancient village life in Yazd at Chak Chak. Next, remember to visit the tomb of Hafez and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Eram Garden (a beautiful Persian garden that is also a picnic spot during Nowruz festive days) in Shiraz; for the historical venture, the ancient city of Persepolis is "the" place! The best place to explore Islamic architecture is Isfahan, which boasts the famous sites of the Imam Mosque and the intricate Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. 

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

Thai New Year or Songkran (13th April 2024)

The Thai New Year is annually celebrated from April 13 to 15 and is one of the most engaging festivals in Thailand. It is sometimes also called the Water Festival due to the extensive, playful water fights. During the festivities, the streets of Thailand are packed with residents enjoying the water fights. It is considered 4a symbol of washing away from the previous year's misfortunes and misdeeds. However, beyond this, the festival also involves spiritual and cultural elements. People also gently pour water over Buddha statues and the hands of their elders as a sign of respect and blessing. Food is also offered to Buddhist monks, and a visit to a temple completes the day. 

One of the lesser-known traditions of the festival is the making and releasing of floating lanterns. A practice extremely popular in Chiang Mai, the New Year festivities end with the practice of releasing lanterns into the sky. These lanterns are made from rice paper and are believed to carry away bad luck and misfortune. The sight of innumerable lanterns floating in the air is a visual spectacle to behold. 

Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai

What more to explore?

Visiting Thailand during Songkran will enhance your experience than a visit during any other time of the year. From Bangkok, Pattaya and Chiang Mai to the serene escapes of Krabi, Phuket and Surat Thani, every next step will be as enchanting as the last one. Especially during Songkran, Bangkok transforms into an epicentre of celebration as the streets of Silom Road and Khao San Road come alive, attracting worldwide tourists. Beyond this, you can see the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (home to the famous reclining Buddha), Wat Saket, and the National Museum, and enjoy a night food tour (to taste the delicious pad thai, mango sticky rice, and spicy papaya salad), which is quite a popular experience in the city. Apart from enjoying the lantern scene in Chiang Mai, visit local Lanna-style temples to witness traditional rituals like bathing Buddha statues. For unique experiences, check out the Death Railway (built during WWII, it acts as a reminder of the thousands of lives that perished during its construction) in Kanchanaburi, take a boat ride on the Phi Phi Islands, admire the 19th-century Sino-Portuguese buildings in Phuket, capture the White Temple in Chiang Rai (one of the most picturesque places in Thailand) and go to Pattaya for the best beachside relaxation. 

Wat Saeng Kaeo Phothiyan Temple

Hindu New Year or Diwali (1st November 2024)

A popular festival in India, Diwali also marks the beginning of the New Year as per the Hindu calendar. Occurring typically in October or November, it is a five-day festival, where each day has a different story and significance, and Diwali is celebrated on the third day. The popular belief is that Diwali marks the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. For the same reason, the lighting of diyas (oil lamps) is one of the key rituals. Central to the festival is the worship of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, when people pray for well-being and affluence in the coming year.

Do you know there is an extensive exchange of gifts and sweets among family and friends? Although exchanging gifts is a part of almost all the festivals, Diwali seems to not be complete without this tradition. The idea is simple: gifting loved ones gifts and sweets symbolises sharing blessings and good fortune. Moreover, it also reflects the generosity of the people as the sweets are offered not only to the family members but also to people who form part of the day-to-day life, like house helps and watch guards, etc. 

Family Celebrating Diwali

What more to explore?

A land of 28 States and 8 Union Territories, India is a treasure trove of diverse experiences, exploring all of which can take weeks! From the rich traditions of Kashmir in the north and the picturesque Western Ghats in the south to the culturally rich state of Rajasthan and the hidden gems of the Northeast, India creates an everlasting impact in the minds of travellers. Although there is so much to explore, some of the must-visits in India are the beautiful city of Jaipur, where you can explore the World Heritage sites of Hawa Mahal and the Amer Fort. If you take a stroll through the Johari Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar, you will collectively enjoy an authentic cultural and culinary experience. Other places are Varanasi (where you can get insight into spiritual India during the famous Ganga Aarti), the capital city of Delhi (world-popular for its experience of the Old and New Delhi), Kolkata (a city renowned for art and culture, whose Durga Puja has recently been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity), Agra (to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal), Mumbai (apart from the Gateway of India, remember to see the Elephanta Caves, which is a cave temple complex housing rock-cut carvings of predominantly Hindu Gods, dating to the 5th-9th centuries), Pondicherry (for a glimpse of French colonial settlement in India), Hampi (a medieval era fortified city, considered an important part of the history of South Indian rulers) and Kerala (whose backwaters make up for a venture into the natural world like none other).