These winter festivals in Asia are some of the biggest events of the year — particularly the Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year). Even Western holidays such as Christmas and December 31 are observed in many parts of Asia.
The Lunar New Year (most commonly known as Chinese New Year) is by no means just a Chinese celebration — it is observed around the world with much preparation and excitement. For around two weeks, Lunar New Year has an impact on travel throughout Asia.
The primary aim of carefully preparing for Chinese New Year and observing old traditions is to bring good fortune and prosperity in the upcoming year. Out with the old (luck) and in the withe new (fortune)!
Houses are cleaned, new clothes are purchased, old debts and grudges are forgiven — all to make way for new prosperity. Learn how to say "happy new year" in Chinese for the big event and consider putting together your own Chinese New Year party.
- Where: Throughout the world
- When: Dates change; in January or February.
The Emperor’s Birthday (Tenno Tanjobi in Japanese) on December 23 is one of only two days a year when the public may enter the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
The day is a national holiday in Japan and is celebrated with a public ceremony with lots of flag waiving as a throng gathers outside the Imperial Palace.
- Where: Tokyo
- When: Annually on December 23
Shogatsu (New Year) in Japan
The Japanese New Year festival (December 31 to January 2), known as Shogatsu, is one of the biggest events in Japan.
Although the Lunar New Year (same as Chinese New Year or Tet in Vietnam) is still observed as the traditional New Year, January 1 has been the "official" New Year celebration since 1873.
The festival concludes with a speech by the Emperor of Japan on January 2 — one of two days a year the general public is allowed inside the Imperial Palace.
- Where: Throughout Japan
- When: December 31 to January 2
Republic Day in India
Republic Day (January 26) is one of India’s few national holidays. Not to be confused with Independence Day on August 15, Republic Day celebrates the adoption of India’s constitution.
Many businesses close to observe the patriotic holiday, alcohol sales stop, and colorful parades fill the streets.
- Where: Throughout India
- When: Annually on January 26
The Hindu festival of Thaipusam in January or February celebrates Lord Murgan, the Tamil god of war. Some devotees pierce their bodies with swords, skewers, and hooks while carrying heavy shrines on their bodies through long processions.
Thaipusam is celebrated by Hindu Tamil communities from Southeast Asia to California.
Setsubun in Japan
One of Japan’s more bizarre festivals, Setsubun is about throwing beans to ward off evil spirits!
People gather at temples to pick up beans; gifts and candy are thrown to frenzied crowds from public stages. Celebrities, sumo wrestlers, and other figures take the stage to throw items to the crowd.
In private homes, the head of the household wears a demon mask and family members throw beans and peanuts at him until he is driven away!
- Where: Throughout Japan
- When: February 2 or 3
Tet in Vietnam
Tet (Vietnamese New Year) is the largest celebration in Vietnam and typically falls on the same dates as Lunar New Year.
The country grinds to a halt to observe the New Year with shows, parades, firecrackers, and general chaos. Although Tet is a very colorful, exciting time to travel in Vietnam, plan well in advance for accommodation and transportation!
- Where: Throughout Vietnam
- When: Dates change; usually the same as Lunar New Year in January or February
Christmas in Asia
Many people of all religions scattered throughout Asia observe Christmas on December 25.
Christmas trees and decorations pop up weeks prior to December 25 in metropolitan shopping malls and even in public squares — especially in places such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Don't be surprised if you hear Christmas music in Asia in early November!
Christmas is one of the biggest holidays in the Philippines, the most predominantly Catholic country in Asia.
A very large Christmas party and festival are held each year in Goa, India.
New Year in Asia
Despite a big portion of Asia observing Lunar New Year, the night of December 31 and the day of January 1 are still great reasons to celebrate!
Western expats throughout Asia hold parties, and nightclubs in big cities get on board with special parties and promotions. Travelers of all nationalities look for places to celebrate the occasion.
King's Bhumibol's Birthday in Thailand
Although King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the longest-reigning monarch in the world, passed away in 2016, his birthday on December 5 will still be remembered and observed in Thailand.
Thailand still loves King Bhumibol. His birthday was taken quite seriously with a candlelight vigil, fireworks, and sometimes a rare appearance of the king in a motorcade.
Show extra respect on December 5 as many Thais may be thinking of their departed king.
- Where: Throughout Thailand, with the largest gatherings in Bangkok.
- When: Annually on December 5
Western Winter Holidays in Asia
With an increasingly growing interest in Western holidays and traditions, many familiar dates are celebrated in Asia. Although maybe not per the Western tradition, Christmas is still observed in many parts of Asia — regardless of the local religion.
January 1 is observed and often used as a reason to celebrate before Chinese New Year. Even Valentine’s Day is catching on with couples, particularly in East Asia.