East Asia is a region of this vast continent rich in cultural experiences with each nation's tradition steeped deep in history. The looming New Years is a time for unique celebrations in the region. From the glittering glamour of the Chinese New Year to the wild Setsubun in Japan, there are several East Asian festivals and traditions that you simply need to experience. Here is a list of festivities that brings our neighboring region to a halt this winter.
Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival (China)
Harbin, located in Northeast China, is one of the coldest regions in the country with temperatures dropping as low as -16 Degrees Celsius in the winters. Hosting the month long Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, the city lights up for a months from January 5. The event, which happens to be largest ice and snow festival, showcases intricate ice sculptures artworks, ranging from small abstract and mythical characters to incredible 250-feet monuments. Keep an eye out for gorgeous ice lanterns which are hand-made by Chinese fisherman by letting a bucket-full of water freeze giving it its desired shape.
A little bit closer to home, Thaipusam is a Tamil festival celebrated on the night of the full moon. Celebrated on January 21 the auspicious event attracts nearly million devotees and visitors to the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur serving as the starting point of an eight-hour long procession. Ending after a flight of 272 steps at the Batu Caves, the day celebrates Parvati handing Murugan a Vel spear to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Watch out for Kavadi attam (Burden dance) - a ceremonial sacrifice performed by devotees during the worship of Murugan.
Ever heard of throwing beans to ward off evil spirits? Well, this Japanese festival held in the start of February is just that. Occurring across the country, the event involves the male head of the household dressing up as Oni (demon) mask. Roasted soybeans are thrown at the member of the family while the locals chant "Demons out! Luck in!" while slamming the door. However, many instead visit temples where the event is taking place in large numbers.
This Vietnamese New Year celebrating the ending of winter takes place in mid-February this year. The nation-wide event sees the extended family come together with the elders giving the young red envelopes containing money from their elders. The locals believe that the first visitor on the day determines their luck for the rest of the year therefore; nobody visits anyone else unless they are invited. Parades, shows, and firecrackers usually brighten the atmosphere bringing about a highly unseen side of Veitnam.
Bun Pha Vet (Laos)
Neighboring Vietnam, Laos is a land brimming with rich Buddhist traditions. Bun Pha Vet is held at different times across January in villages around the country. An auspicious time for Laotian males to enter monkhood, the day commemorates Lord Buddha and his life. Known as Prince Vessantara in Laos, the tales of Lord Buddha are read across temples from 14 set of palm lead manuscripts.
Chinese New Year (Southeast Asia)
The largest festival in China, the Lunar/Chinese New Year brings about the entire nation of over 1 billion to a striking halt. Lasting for 15 days, the festival marks the first day of a new moon with unique and different traditions taking place each day. Red paper lanterns and floral decorations are put up across all the houses to mark the beginning of the New Year. Based on an ancient legend which speaks of 12 animals racing against each other, the Chinese New Year runs on a 12-year cycle.