Pacific rim rife with winter festivities

Meghan Ryan

Winter holiday celebration fun and festivities are not limited to the Western, often Christian,  countries celebrating Christmas. Asian countries have plenty of holiday inspired reasons to warm up during these bitter, cold months with family and booze. Traditional folklore and mythology of the region has had an historical impact on many of the holidays still celebrated today.

Many of these traditions are founded on farming practices from ancestors. These farmers relied greatly on the Lunar calendar because of the importance on the seasonal changes on crops. The Chinese Calendar relies on the lunar cycles as opposed to the western usage of the Gregorian, solar-based calendar. Because of this, traditional holidays, such as the Chinese New Year, will not land on the same day every year, but on the same day of the lunar cycle instead. China is not the only country that relies on this calendar. Many Asian countries such as Japan and Korea do as well.

Traditional Holidays

The traditional Chinese holiday, the Dong Zhi Festival, will be Dec. 21 this year. This is the Winter Solstice festival and is also nicknamed the “Chinese Thanksgiving.” It is a day to celebrate with family gatherings and a feast. There is ancestor worship performed on this day as well. It is believed that because this holiday is on the longest night of the year, yin and yang (balance and harmony) are most powerful at this time.

Japan wins the award for best December holiday with Bounenkai. Bounenkai is the “forget-the-year” party and  may take place throughout December. This holiday entails drinking lots of alcohol with friends and co-workers and attempting to forget the troubles of the past year by becoming drunk.

The most important winter holiday in eastern Asia is the Chinese New Year. Also known as the spring festival, it marks the end of the winter season. This year the Chinese New Year will begin on Feb. 14 2010. It will be a year of the tiger. The celebration is not limited to only China, but is practiced throughout Asia including Japan and Korea.

The Chinese New Year festivities will last a total of 15 days, with each day emphasizing different aspects of their lives such as family and prayer. The first day of the festival starts with a bang, literally, as fireworks are set off as a tradition. This originally started to scare away evil spirits with the loud, exploding original fireworks made of gunpowder filled bamboo pieces wrapped in red paper. The two-week-long celebration includes a night parade, sporting events, visits to families and prayers to the heavens. One of the many traditions that accompany this event is the red envelope. The red envelope may be given from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors and children. Often, it may include even amounts of money for good luck.

Religious Holidays

While there are many religious groups such as Shinto, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism in Asia; Buddhism, including Taoism and Confucianism,  has a very large following in east Asia and also celebrates various holidays during the winter.

Although less than 1 percent of China and Japan are practicing Christians, Christmas is still celebrated on Dec. 25 by some. It is not a public holiday, but it has grown in popularity because of the interests in Western culture.

The festival Ta Chiu will be celebrated in Hong Kong this year on Dec. 27. This celebration is generally limited only to Hong Kong, but it is sometimes practiced in parts of China. This is a Taoist festival celebrating renewal and peace. The people call upon their ancestors and gods in order to rejuvenate their lives and strive for a wonderful new year. After the celebration, all of the names of the townspeople are written down and burned. The smoke from this burning is thought to carry all of the names up to the heavens so that the people will be remembered by the gods.

Jan. 11 will also be another important religious holiday in Asia. The Laba Festival is a Buddhist celebration. The festival celebrates the date of Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment at thirty-five years of age. It is tradition for all Buddhists to read the scriptures during this Laba festival. The culinary custom is to eat Laba congee, a dish made of fruits and mixed grains, on this day. This festival is especially important in China which has the most Buddhist followers than any other country in the world.