Credit: The Korean National Folk Museum

Come 10th February 2013, Chinese across the world will be celebrating the Chinese New Year. Decked in new clothes, visiting relatives and friends, exchanging well wishes, giving and receiving red packets and enjoying festive snacks, these customs and traditions are perhaps all too familiar to those who celebrate the Chinese New Year. While the Chinese form a significant percentage of the world, New Year celebrations held in accordance with the lunar calendar are not limited to the Chinese. The Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese are some cultures that also engage in festivities during this time of the year, boasting customs and traditions that resemble the Chinese ones, albeit with a twist.

Same same, but different?
While Chinese families believe in ‘bribing’ the Kitchen God with a sweet sticky cake offering so that he will only have good things to report about their conduct to the Gods of Gods, the Vietnamese practice the Tet Tao Quan, a tradition of ‘sending’ the trio of kitchen deities for their annual report to Heaven. In exchange for a favourable report, the Vietnamese focus on helping the three deities on their journey back — on the 23rd of the twelfth lunar month, they will present delicacies, fresh flowers, fruits and carps at the altar, and perform a worship ceremony. Thereafter, they will release the carps into ponds, lakes or rivers, believing these carps symbolize heavenly creatures which will ferry the kitchen deities back to heaven safely.

Red packets containing a token sum given by the elders to young ones

Korean version of Chinese ‘Red Packets’
Credit: The Korean National Folk Museum

Over in South Korea, the Saebae or bow of respect is a key element of Seollal, otherwise known as the Korean New Year. Just as the Chinese visit their elders and gather as a family — many a time on bended knees — to articulate auspicious greetings to them, young Koreans kneel and take a deep bow as a mark of respect. As with their Chinese counterparts, Korean elders in turn offer blessings and a token sum to the delighted young ones.