Happy Chinese New Year - Suk-san Wan Trud Jeen – The Year of the Rat
25 January 2020
By: Nulacha Sutthinonthagul
This coming Saturday, 25 September, the night of the new moon, Chinese around the world will celebrate the start of their New Year – the Year of the Rat, the first year of their 12-year zodiac cycle. Known the world over as the Lunar New Year, it is named the Spring Festival in China, Tết in China, Losar in Tibet and Trud Jeen here in Thailand where about 15 percent of the population is of Chinese descent. As the Chinese calendar dates back to 2698 BC, there has been some form of celebration for well over 4,000 years.
While it isn’t a government holiday in most of the Kingdom, the Lunar New Year is a public holiday in the four southernmost provinces, Narathiwat, Pattanai, Yala and Satun. At the same time, many of the Chinese companies and banks will close and much of the commerce in Bangkok and other urban centres seems to go quiet as many of the Thai-Chinese business and shop owners take time off to celebrate with their families.
Chinese New Year celebrates the ending of the old year and coming of the new, and it’s a time for families to reunite. In China and other Asian nations this can mean a great migration as people pack and begin their journey a little before the holiday so the family will be together for the main events.
Red lanterns and red and gold banners and bunting are seen decorating homes, buildings and streets throughout China and other Asian countries, as well as in cities’ Chinatowns, like in New York and San Francisco and Bangkok’s Yaowarat. It seems each year the pyrotechnic displays become much more explosive and colourful.
It is believed that the mythological demon serpent Nian does not like fire, and so the colour red is seen everywhere. It is also afraid of firecrackers and so, on the eve of the New Year, you will see and hear from small firecrackers to massive firework spectacles to ward off the evil monster along with the pounding of drums and dragon dances. Then, again in the morning, fireworks are heard blasting away to welcome the New Year and bring good fortune.
While in China Lunar New Year celebrations last up to 15 days, in Thailand, ethnic Chinse families will observe three days, Spring Festival Eve, Spring Festival Day and then New Year, which this year falls on 25 January, or the third day of the observances. Still, the decorations will remain up for 15 days, until the eve of the full moon, when the Spring Festival comes to an end with the Lantern Festival. This day also celebrates the important Buddhist holiday, Makha Bucha, which commemorates the first Dharma speech after the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. At Thai wats, Buddhists will make merit and there will be an evening candlelit procession when they will be led by monks around the temple’s ubosot, ordination hall, three times.
During the day of Spring Festival Eve, people will make their preparations for the holiday. They will decorate their homes, buy food and then cook the auspicious dishes, like long noodles that symbolize longevity; roast duck, which represents loyalty; fish that signifies wealth and abundance, roast pork, a symbol of peace; tofu that represents family happiness, eggs with the hope for a big and healthy family and rice cakes to ask for a year of success.
Spring Festival day begins with a ritual during which cooked meats, fruit and liquor areoffered to the gods and goddesses the family worships. After this, offerings are made to the family ancestors by also burning paper representations of the items that were their favourites as well as what the family believes are needed in the afterlife. Then, it’s time for the family to gather, dine and celebrate. The children and younger members of the clan will become quite excited at this time as they will be given red envelopes containing money known as Aung Po, or Qiang Hongpao.
On New Year’s day, it is Chinese tradition for the younger generations to present their elders with golden oranges that symbolize a future of joy and good fortune.
If you are in Bangkok and want to watch and join in the celebrations, try to get to Yaowarat. It’s easy now taking the MRT Blue Line and exiting at the Wat Mongkol station. Wherever you are though, you can wish the Chinese you meet a Happy New Year by saying, “Gong Hai Fat Choy” in Cantonese, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin or “Suk-san Wan Trud Jeen” in Thai.
Happy New Year of the Rat!