If you think Chinese New Year celebrations can only to be enjoyed in Asia, think again! The Lunar New Year (aka "Chinese New Year") is arguably the most widely celebrated holiday in the world.
You can enjoy Chinese New Year celebrations from Sydney to San Francisco and everywhere between. Even in cities without public celebrations, members of the local community are probably at home quietly observing some of the Chinese New Year traditions.
Observing Chinese New Year
Although Chinese New Year is technically 15 days long, typically only the first two or three days of the festival are observed as public holidays with schools and businesses closed. The impact of Chinese New Year as a public holiday is decided by each country. For instance, Singapore allocates two days as a public holiday for Lunar New Year, Beijing three days, and Tet in Vietnam is observed for five days!
Every day of the 15 during the festival follows traditions, rituals, and superstitions that date back for centuries. For instance, the third day of Chinese New Year is considered an unlucky day to host guests or go visit friends.
Chinese New Year ends on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival, not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival) which is sometimes also referred to as the "Lantern Festival" by Chinese communities in Southeast Asia.
Most places in Asia begin the celebration on the eve of the first day of the Lunar New Year; many businesses may close early to allow families more time to convene for dinner.
When to Celebrate Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar rather than our own Gregorian calendar, so dates change annually for the event.
Large fireworks displays can be seen on the eve of Chinese New Year, with parades and more festivities starting the next morning. The evening before Chinese New Year is typically reserved for a "reunion dinner" with family and loved ones who have traveled to see each other.
The first two days of the festival will be the most spirited, as well as the 15th day to close out the celebration. If you missed the opening days, be ready for a large parade, street processions, lion and dragon dances, and lots of fireworks on the last day of Chinese New Year!
The Days Before
During the build up to Chinese New Year you'll find special markets, sales promotions, and lots of shopping opportunities as businesses hope to cash in before observing the holiday. Shops and malls get busy with people making preparations such as buying new clothes to begin the new lunar year.
Food and groceries for making big meals gets purchased. Home decorations are made or bought and hung in preparation for Chinese New Year parties.
Where to Find the Largest Chinese New Year Celebrations
Other than China, the obvious choice, Southeast Asia is a fun place to enjoy Chinese New Year. These other places in Asia with large ethnic Chinese populations are guaranteed to throw Chinese New Year celebrations you'll never forget!
- Georgetown, Malaysia: The city of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia, claims to have one of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations in Southeast Asia.
- Singapore: Unsurprisingly, Singapore also boasts one of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations in Southeast Asia, and the densely populated city/country/island can certainly pull it off!
- Vietnam: The Lunar New Year is celebrated enthusiastically in Vietnam as Tet Nguyen Dan, or just simply Tết. Expect a big bash in Hue, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
- Hong Kong: The celebration in Hong Kong is epic, but be prepared to have a lot of company.
- Thailand: Expect the largest festivals for Lunar New Year in Bangkok's Chinatown and Phuket. There is some celebrating in Chiang Mai, too.
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Ethnic Chinese are the largest minority in Malaysia's metropolitan capital of Kuala Lumpur; you'll see a parade, fireworks, and grand celebration near the Central Market and Jalan Petaling in KL Chinatown.
Celebrating Outside of Asia
If you can't make it to Asia for this year's celebration, don't worry: Nearly every large city in the United States, Europe, and Australia will observe Chinese New Year to some degree.
London, San Francisco, and Sydney all claim to have the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia. Crowds of more than half a million people go watch the cities try to outdo each other! Expect big parades and an enthusiastic celebration in Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles as well.
Traveling During Chinese New Year
Unfortunately, traveling in Asia during Chinese New Year can be pricey and frustrating as things become extraordinarily busy. Flights become full, then accommodation fills up and transportation services become limited.
Make arrangements well in advance if visiting any major city in Asia during the Lunar New Year. Secure your online bookings as soon as possible. Allow extra time in your itinerary for the inevitable holiday delays. Streets may be closed, and some services (e.g., access to banks for exchanging money) will be limited.
Expect unusually heavy traffic and transportation delays in the days leading up to Chinese New Year as people return to their birthplaces for reunions with family. Others head out to top destinations throughout Southeast Asia to enjoy the holiday. Millions of people will be on the move in Asia for chunyun (traveling for the Lunar New Year), what is considered the largest human migration on the planet.