Chinese New Year is just around the corner and, with a huge community of Chinese descent and one of the world’s largest and liveliest Chinatown neighbourhoods, it’s no real wonder that Bangkok comes alive for this annual celebration. Here’s what you need to know about celebrating Chinese New Year in Bangkok in 2017.
In 2017, Chinese New Year celebrations will take place in Bangkok between Wednesday 25 and Sunday 29 January, with an opening ceremony at 5pm on the evening of Friday 27 January. Festivities can be seen across Thailand – including in Chiang Mai and in Phuket town – but, unlike in previous years, the highlight of the action in 2017 will be in Lumpini Park rather than Yaowarat, Bangkok’s sprawling and bustling Chinatown. Yaowarat’s Chinese New Year event organisers opted to call off their celebrations this year as a mark of respect during the period of mourning for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol.
Ordinarily, this is a time when the streets of Chinatown transform into an explosion of red, as traditional Chinese lanterns are strung up, people wear red shirts aplenty, and individuals give red envelopes containing money to friends and family. The abundance of red and accompanying firecrackers are designed to ward off a mythical creature thought to make an appearance on New Year’s Eve to ravage homes. In 2017, you can expect much of the same festivity at the event taking place in Lumpini Park.
Firecrackers are traditionally let off as part of loud and boisterous celebrations, and Thais – those both of Chinese descent and not – make merit by visiting temples and Chinese shrines to pray to Buddha images and statues of Chinese deities. Elaborate parades of dragon dancers through the Chinatown districts of cities right across Thailand are also a prominent fixture in Thailand’s Chinese New Year celebrations. Streets in and around Yaowarat are ordinarily closed to traffic, becoming pedestrianised to make way for these parades and a whole array of other cultural shows. Members of Thailand’s royal family also commonly make appearances during the festivities, presiding over the ceremonies that take place.
Traditionally, the eve of Chinese New Year – this year on Saturday 28 January, ushering in the Year of the Fire Rooster – is the time for families to pray to the gods, make merit for and pay respect to their ancestors, and spend time with one another. This is the time for an all-out banquet, and in the preceding days – known in Thai as wan jai, or shopping days – it’s not uncommon for markets across parts of Thailand with significant Chinese communities to become packed out as locals stock up on all the supplies they will need for their feast. Market prices for raw foods and ingredients typically increase in Thailand around this time, as demand goes up – duck, pork and copious amounts of oranges are among the foodstuffs you’ll see Thai-Chinese families snapping up.
Later on New Year’s Eve is also the time for exchanging those money-stuffed red ang pao envelopes. Meanwhile the day of Chinese New Year itself is all about resting, and doing as little as possible aside from visiting extended family – that’s when the oranges come in, offered as a gesture to wish one another a happy and prosperous year to come. Traditionally, those of Chinese descent will avoid doing work or chores on New Year’s Day, in order to maximise their fortune in the year ahead – among a number of precepts, they’ll also avoid arguments, conversation about illness or death, and even washing their hair!
Though Chinese New Year isn’t a public holiday in Thailand, you can expect many shops and businesses run by those with Chinese ancestry to close for the festivities, so that the owners can also take the time off to spend with their families.
Have you experienced Chinese New Year in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Aleksandr Zykof.