The Thai-Chinese count for at least 15% of the population in Thailand. Although they are well assimilated into the Thai culture, they keep many Chinese traditions alive, especially the celebration of the Chinese New Year.
Festivals and celebrations in Chiang Mai: Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is a big celebration all over Asia, and Thailand is no exception. Although the Chinese New Year isn’t recognised as an official public holiday in Thailand and it’s celebrated for 3 days only compared to 15 days in other Asian countries, the Chinese New Year celebrations are found in all major cities in Thailand with large numbers of Chinese descendants, including Chiang Mai.
The Chinese New Year celebration in Chiang Mai isn’t an event with great pomp as in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan or even Bangkok, it’s still an interesting local event.
Preparations for the Chinese New Year
Preparations for the Chinese New Year start ahead of time. This year they started on 20 January and continued until 26 January 2017.
The preparations include different activities.
Like Christmas, Chinese New Year is a shopping boom time. People buy special New Year food, red lanterns and other home decorations, firecrackers and fireworks, and new clothes to wear on the New Year’s Day. Small markets are set everywhere in town. Many Chinese-run shops are closed over the Chinese New Year, and people feverishly finish up doing their shopping in the last few days.
Cleaning the house
A few days before the Chinese New Year is a big cleaning time, and the Chinese people thoroughly clean their houses. Cleaning symbolically means sweeping away any misfortune, bidding farewell to the old year, and welcoming the New Year. It’s also believed that using the broom to clean the house during the first two days of the New Year will sweep away good luck.
New Year Eve
This year the New Year eve falls on 27 January 2017.
Having family reunion and family dinner
The celebration starts on the eve of the Chinese New Year. People travel from all over the world to gather together for a family reunion and a family meal. Given the number of Chinese living in different countries, the tremendous increase in air traffic during the Chinese New Year isn’t’ surprising. In the morning of the New Year Eve, the family members make offerings and worship their ancestors, and in the evening they share their most important meal of the year.
People decorate their houses with red lanterns, red couplets (paired phrases written on red paper in black ink), and paintings (special New Year paintings with best wishes). Red is the symbol of good luck in Chinese culture, and it’s often used for New Year decorations.
Giving “lucky money” to children
After the family dinner, the parents give red envelopes with money to children to wish them long and healthy life, and to ward away evil spirits. These red envelopes are believed to bring luck, hence the name, “lucky money”.
Listening to the bells
Bells are traditional symbols of the Chinese New Year. Ringing a huge bell in the temples at midnight is believed to drive bad luck away and to bring good fortune.
Celebration of Chinese New Year’s Day in Chiang Mai
The celebration of the Chinese New Year, the New Year’s Day, falls this year on 28 January 2017.
The celebration of the year of the Rooster in Chiang Mai takes place over three days, from 28 to 30 January 2017, with the main events happening in the evenings of 28 and 29 January starting at about 6pm.
In Chiang Mai, the Chinese New Year is celebrated in the streets around the bustling Warorot market in Chinatown located near the Ping River.
To attract good fortune, shops, houses and the streets of Chinatown have been beautifully decorated with red Chinese lanterns and red couplets have been put on the doors.
As the evening settles over, the hanging lanterns are lit up making Chinatown look magical.
Around 5 pm, the streets leading to the entrance to the Chinatown are already the chaos of parked scooters.
The streets of Chinatown, closed for traffic during the Chinese New Year celebration, are lined up with endless stalls offering Chinese and Thai food for hungry people.
Food is an important part of the Chinese New Year celebration. Eating some particular food is believed to bring good luck, the “must eat” food, such as fish, dumplings, spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes and sweet rice balls.
The main attraction of the celebration is food but vendors don’t miss the opportunity to set up stalls with clothes, cosmetics, and souvenirs.
Praying in temples
Praying for good fortune in temples during the Chinese New Year is believed to ensure blessing for the year to come.
The beautiful Chinese temple in Chinatown in Chiang Mai is full of worshippers and the smell of burning incense sticks. People come with their babies and their old parents helping them with a few stairs at the entrance.
People light candles and pray to the Gods and to their ancestors.
Offering sacrifices to ancestors
The prayers are accompanied by offerings to honour ancestors in order to ensure protection and prosperity. The offerings are often the platters of fruits, especially, the oranges believed to bring wealth and good luck, and Chinese sweets. Some people even offer whole chicken.
To please their ancestors, the people burn fake bank notes as a way to send them a gift.
Putting on new clothes
On the first day of the New Year, the Chinese put on new clothes, and wish each other good luck and happiness in the year to come.
Wearing red, a symbol of good luck and fortune
Traditionally, on the New Year’s Day, people wear red considered as auspicious colour, a symbol of good luck and fortune. It’s believed that red wards off bad luck and misfortune.
However, with the time this tradition is no longer strictly kept, and many people wear clothes of different colours. Or they are all wearing red underwear, sold everywhere around the Chinese New Year?
After 7 pm, the streets are getting busier.
In the late evening, the main focus of the celebration is the stage set up on the outskirts of the Chinatown. People start gathering near the stage hours before traditional musicians and dancers start their performances. The area around the stage is so crowded than taking photos quickly becomes a very remote perspective. Instead, it’s a chance to admire traditional dancing and singing, some of it with a rather modern twist.
Traditionally, lion dances and dragon dances are performed for the Chinese New Year. I am not sure if they were performed this year in Chiang Mai as the celebrations this year are much calmer, with less firecrackers and fireworks. In Bangkok, the decision was taken not to organize the famous Chinese New Year celebration in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown as Thailand is still in the year of national mourning since the death of King Rama IX.
The Chinese New Year celebration in Chiang Mai is on a rather smaller scale compared to the neighbouring Asian countries but it’s nevertheless an interesting event, full of colours and traditional music, and a great opportunity to try some food specifically prepared for the Chinese New Year celebration.
Setting off firecrackers and fireworks
The New Year’s Day celebration is finished with firecrackers and fireworks at the stroke of midnight when the New Year begins. Originally used to scare away evil spirits, they are fired to symbolise good-bye to the old year and to welcome the New Year.
Dates: Chinese New Year doesn’t have fixed dates but it always falls in the months of January or February.
Location: In the town of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, the Chinese New Year is celebrated in the streets around the Warorot market in Chinatown located near the Ping River.
Transportation: By motorbike or songthaews. These red cars, functioning as public mini-buses, are the most popular and cheapest option to get around Chiang Mai.