Chinese New Year in Bangkok: the Spring festival

The ICONSIAM Eternal Prosperity Chinese New Year. Streamed live on Jan 22, 2020

Bangkok hosts one of the coolest and fun-filled Chinese New Year celebrations outside of China. Based on the Chinese lunar calendar which dates back to 2698 BC, the first day of the Chinese New Year begins on the new moon day that falls between 21st January and 20th February. In 2020, the New Year begins on the 25th of January.

Thus starts the year 4718, according to its calendar. In China, the Gregorian calendar is usually used, adopted in 1912, but the traditional one continues to mark celebrations and parties.

In the Chinese calendar, the year is divided into months that follow the lunar cycles and last 29 and a half days. The year of this calendar has 354 days. To compensate for this 11-day difference with the astronomical year, an additional month must be added every two or three years.

Chinese New Year. Yellow Emperor
Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor. Photo: N509FZ [CC BY-SA]

Year 1 of this calendar, equivalent to 2698 BC, coincides with the beginning of Huangdi‘s reign, or the Yellow Emperor, a mythological character whose reign is traditionally considered the introducer of advances such as bow and arrow, writing, and the cars and wooden boats.

The Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 animals and 2020 will be the year of the Rat, Bangkok streets are crowded with Chinese ex-pats and colorful celebrations during this time of the year.

Where is the party

Yaowarat Road ( ถนนเยาวราช) in Chinatown ( ไชน่าทาวน์) is the epicenter of the Chinese New Year festival which is also known as the Spring festival. All the events are free to attend.

Chinese New Year. Celebrations
Chinese New Year celebrations at Chinatown Bangkok. By siraprapa khrueakaeo…, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Most of the important events are centered around 3 days. While several smaller celebrations run for a fortnight. On the 15th day, the Lantern festival is celebrated. Houses are cleaned to remove negativity. The color red is stressed upon and is extensively used during this time. It symbolizes the fire that was used to ward off the demon serpent Nian as per local folklore.

Chinese New Year. Chinese lanterns
Chinese lanterns adorn the streets during the celebrations of the new year.

Chinese markets in the local communities are packed with festive goodies and the people are hyped up in feast mood. Prior to the event, huge crowds of worshippers visit various temples to offer prayers to the Buddha and other Chinese deities. Incense sticks, candles, and chants fill the temple grounds for good.

Three colorful days

New Year’s Eve marks the first day of the event. It’s also referred to as the Spring festival eve or the praying day. On this day families pray for everyone’s wellbeing and dine with their loved ones. Kids are given gifts, called Ang Pao ( อั่งเปา) in the form of pocket money in red envelopes.

Main roads are closed for vehicles to make way for pedestrians and numerous street stalls. Auspicious Chinese hot meals are served all along the way. It is impossible to miss all the events if you are in Bangkok during this time especially on Yaowarat Road.

Chinese New Year. Dragon
Dragon costume used in the numerous parades in the Chinese New Year celebrations.

The second day of the event is the new moon day. Street cultural shows are put up along the roadsides. Pretty much all day, bright and colorful dragon and lion parades spice up the entire ambiance. Loud drums and red shirts are symbolically used to drive away evil spirits.

Traditional Chinese and Thai dancers shake up the entire street amidst of cheering crowd. And to end the current year on an even louder note, dazzling fireworks light up the night sky with glee on every face that is tilting upwards.

On the last day of the event or on the first day of the year, known as the rest day, people visit their extended families and relatives in colorful dresses. Oranges are exchanged with a belief to bring good luck and prosperity. Negative emotions and talks are avoided to bring good fortune the entire year. And after dark, Chinese lanterns are lit to brighten up the already cheerful mood.

The shrine at Thien Fah Foundation during Chinese New Year
The shrine at Thien Fah Foundation during Chinese New Year, Samphanthawong District. By Lerdsuwa [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of traveling happens during the event and so transit systems get choked up. The city administration maintains and directs the ocean of visitors well to retain the festive fun.

It’s an overwhelming experience to discover how deeply the Chinese culture and Thai heritage are weaved together.