How Southeast Asian People Celebrate Chinese New Year

Each year, around mid-February – early March, many people in the Southeast Asia region celebrate the Chinese New Year. This is almost a month after China’s celebrations, although in some countries such as Indonesia and Singapore, it may start up to a month earlier. The annual celebration is primarily a big festive gathering of families and friends which includes feasting on food prepared by the women of the house and playing traditional culture games like card or Mahjong exchange of red envelopes (Ang Pao) to signify blessings.

The traditional customs vary depending on each country, but most of them share similar activities such as cleaning and renewing one’s house before celebrations actually begin to symbolize new beginnings with no negligence for what may come one’s way. Also setting firecrackers during midnight honors deities so that they keep bad luck away while paying tribute to new arrivals.

In my experience during my stay in Vietnam this past year during the festivities I was fascinated by an entirely different culture I had never known before. Festivities started well ahead of New Year from preparing decorations such as colorful banners and lanterns hung on doorways giving it color accompanied with different lively music heard throughout streets playing folk instruments as locals danced through streetlights hand in hand – celebrating joyfully for another brand new turn for all seasons to come.

Traditional Celebrations

One of the most exciting times of year in Southeast Asia is Chinese New Year, when people celebrate the start of the Lunar New Year. In Vietnam, the traditional way of celebrating Chinese New Year is full of colour, noise, and most importantly, delicious food. Each year, Vietnamese people come together and take part in a range of activities to kick off the New Year. Here I discuss some of the traditional celebrations I have seen and taken part in during my time in Vietnam.


Apart from wearing traditional garments and celebrating family gatherings, the decorations saying the arrival of Chinese New Year are also essential for Southeast Asian people. For instance, when I was in Vietnam during Chinese New Year, some common decorations which can easily found both in cities and villages were:

  • Red paper hangings. They usually carry out Chinese phrases such as ‘Good luck’ and ‘Health’ and are hung all over houses’ walls or doors to bring good luck and fortune to the family.
  • Chinese knots. They have a shape of a butterfly and widely used as decorations to symbolize making a wish come true.
  • Paper lanterns or bottlenecks crafted with red papers finishing with excellent designs like lucky cats or golden fishes which represent money come in abundance signals the start of a prosperous new year.
  • Red envelopes, known as ‘Lì Xì’ filled with money is prepared by parents/family who present these lucky envelopes to children as blessings of wealth for them.

Overall, Vietnamese people share similar decorations habits compared with other Southeast Asian countries where all families across the region flaunt their happy faces to greet each other for an exciting holiday filled with love, joy and colorful decoration styles that span centuries of traditions from their parents and ancestors before them.


Food is an essential part of every celebration, and Chinese New Year is no exception. Many traditional dishes are cooked and served during the festivities, attempting to bring prosperity and good luck to the families who partake in them. One popular dish served is a whole chicken that symbolizes togetherness. In many Chinese communities, foods like dumplings, mooncakes, and tangyuan are all staples of the holiday feast. Delicious sweets such as cassia tangerine candy or sugared lychee nuts are served to extend best wishes for a sweet new year ahead.

The colorful presentation of food makes it hard for anyone to resist wanting some! Fruits with bright colors like apples, oranges or tangerines with their leaves intact on the tray represent good luck too! All play an important part in wishing for long life and prosperity during the New Year celebrations.

Vietnam follows a similar celebratory format with additional cuisine added on top of it. Banh chung (a square-shaped sticky rice cake) is traditionally prepared during the Lunar New Year festivities as they signify unity over adversity while serving as a reminder of their ancestors’ struggles against foreign invaders from Champa and China. Additionally, bánh tét (cylinder-shaped sticky rice cake) is commonly served because it represents fertility in anticipation for good fortune in health and prosperity for succeeding generations that follow after them.

banh chung

A fun tradition throughout Vietnam which happens around Lunar New Year is everyone having mứt (candied fruit). This custom follows closely with Cantonese culture which could have been adopted by Vietnamese culture during Japanese Occupation when many Cantonese traders settled down in Vietnam seeking refuge under Japanese imperial rule at the time period between 1930s-1945s before migrating back closer towards Guangdong Province following Japan’s defeat at the end World War II in 1945.


For the Chinese New Year, there are numerous traditional activities practiced in Southeast Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. These activities are an important part of the overall celebration, alongside decorations and special food meals.

The days leading up to the Chinese New Year are filled with necessary preparation to clean and decorate homes. This includes hanging red paper cutouts and setting up a family altar for honoring ancestors. People also give decorative vases filled with seasonal fruits to one another as a gesture of good luck for the new year.

Other significant activities within the region include lion dancing which is a common sight in streets full of excited people celebrating together. The Lions made from wicker baskets and colored paper commonly dance through busy streets with drums in tow while cheers of encouragement rain down from those participating or spectating. Dragon parades consisting of colorful cloth dragons or paper Mache figures on large sticks parade through town supported by social dancing by revelers paying homage to ancestors and traditional cultural values.

lion dancing new year vietnam

In Vietnam, visitors may hear loud pops emanating from firecrackers that are lit during Chinese New Year celebrations leading up to the first day of festivities known as ‘Tết’s Eve’ – these firecrackers ward off evil spirits while also serving as an expression of joy or happiness marking an important event in tradition which usually culminates into communal meals shared between extended family members often cooked together over large cauldrons on roaring flames after formal addresses have been made by elders into younger generations about respecting their ancestors’ wishes no matter how times change over time; demonstrating their generational continuity regardless if families live in different cities or countries now.

Modern Celebrations

As Southeast Asia is home to many Chinese communities, Chinese New Year is one of the most celebrated festivals in the region. It is usually celebrated by the Chinese with traditional practices, but the celebrations have evolved over time with the addition of modern touches. In Vietnam, for example, modern celebrations of Chinese New Year include the traditional customs such as exchanging gifts and popular dishes, but also other activities such as organizing concerts and parties. Let’s take a look at the modern celebrations of Chinese New Year in Vietnam.


Fireworks have been a part of Chinese New Year celebrations for centuries and continue to be popular today. Fireworks are believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck in the new year. In Vietnam, fireworks are set off in the middle of the city, in the street and in front of houses during New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year.

fireworks in hcmc

The louder and more spectacular the display, the better. As well as creating raucous sound and color displays, firecrackers bring people together as neighbors gather to light them up hand-in-hand. People also burn joss sticks to honor their ancestors on this special holiday. These traditional rituals create joyful atmospheres for everyone to celebrate unity.

Dragon and Lion Dance

The traditional dragon and lion dance is another ritual which has been preserved in many parts of Southeast Asia, particularly in the ethnic Chinese communities across Vietnam. This festival has long been a source of joy, celebration and entertainment; the lively dancing movements, beating drums and cymbals attract looks of amazement and admiration from passers-by. The colourful dragons are believed to bring luck to households and businesses, bestowing good fortune upon them for the upcoming year. Accompanied by traditional musical instruments, people gather around to watch these energetic creatures grapple for oranges which are seen as symbols of good luck for those who catch them. This unique form of representation is said to have began with a group of students who performed a lion dance during their New Year performance in 1682. Since then, this art form has spread throughout Southeast Asia becoming an intrinsic part of Chinese New Year celebrations in Vietnam.


Gifting is a way of saying “Happy New Year” to family and friends, especially when giving something that’s related to Lunar New Year, kids are more excited to receive gifts on this day. In Vietnam, families usually exchange new outfits, fruits and snacks like bánh tét (cylinder glutinous rice cake), bánh chưng (square shape glutinous rice cake) as symbolic of longevity and prosperity. There are also many lucky money in red packets with the wishes for happiness, health, wealth and luck. This tradition of giving red envelopes has been a part of Chinese culture for centuries and still keeps going today in Southeast Asia countries like Thailand, Vietnam & Laos – where people celebrate this event as well.

In addition to families exchanging gifts and spending time together during the Spring Festival period from 25th of 12th lunar month to 15th of 1st lunar month, people also enjoy the festival activities such as going shopping at night markets or attend cultural events with traditional lion dance parade performance during the 3 first days or even preparing different kinds home-made food for two meals every day. The atmosphere is traditionally happy with friends visiting each other homes for reunion; this brings prosperity by connecting with others who are part of holidays activities who may have different backgrounds but all shares one similar value that’s unite under same faith – wishing everyone have great life ahead.


The Chinese New Year is a time of hope, family reunion, and renewal. This beloved holiday is celebrated not just by those of direct Chinese descent, but also by those throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam. It’s a time to put aside the troubles and hardships of the old year and look forward to what the new one holds in store.

At its heart, Chinese New Year is essentially a celebration of happiness — a chance for families to come together and share their love as they look forward to brighter days ahead. With so many exciting events held throughout the region during this festive occasion, taking part in Chinese New Year has become an experience to cherish in Southeast Asia.

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