8 Major Asian Holidays You Should Know
Wading into these holidays can be a bit tricky for the uninitiated. In India alone,
there are dozens and dozens of festivals celebrated by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and more. There are regional differences, too: A client in Udaipur may have a grand time celebrating Holi while a client in Goa ignores it altogether.
We can’t cover every holiday marked by these multi-faceted, fascinating countries, but we can start with a look at eight major holidays that might affect your travel and communication. Many of these holidays, like Ramadan and Lunar New Year, are celebrated worldwide, but they are official holidays in China and India.
A note on calendars. In China, many festivals and holidays correspond to the lunisolar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. A Chinese calendar month is new moon to new moon, or approximately every 29 days. Hindu holidays in India also often correspond to a lunisolar calendar, though a different lunisolar calendar than the one used in China.
Lunar New Year
Date: Early February
This national public holiday is the biggest festival in the country, officially celebrated over the course of a week and informally celebrated for up to two weeks, starting with a traditional spring cleaning at home. This massive holiday features parades, fireworks, and special cakes and dumplings. Gambling isn’t technically legal in China, but many families and friends do so anyway at this time (Las Vegas goes all out for Chinese New Year with fantastical decorations and promos). Travel during this time and you’ll see bright splashes of red, an auspicious color, everywhere.
Date: Usually April 4-5
This holiday is known as “tomb-sweeping day” and is meant to honor the dead. This ancient festival has been celebrated for more than 2,500 years. It’s a time to clean relatives’ resting places, make prayers and offerings for the dead, fly kites, and eat green dumplings. It’s a festival with a family and tradition focus.
Date: The full moon in the month of Phalgun, typically sometime in late February or March
Holi is one of those festivals that is so joyful and colorful that it has been adopted by people around the world — if you’ve ever been to a “color run” and had powdered pigment thrown on you while rushing through a 5K, you’ve seen the influence of this popular holiday. It’s a spring festival that’s almost childlike in its frivolity, with people of all ages smearing bright colors on each other, eating, and drinking. It’s a time of renewal, too, and letting go of past regrets and grudges. Both Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Holi, though it’s also become a secular holiday in parts of India.
Date: Typically February or March
Unlike Holi, Maha Shvaratri is a serious holiday of contemplation and worship. It’s devoted to the Hindu god Shiva and celebrated all night with prayer vigils. Worshippers might fast, do yoga, and think about how they can overcome weaknesses in themselves. Many pack temples and other holy sites and stay throughout the dark hours.
Date:Ninth month of the Islamic calendar year, typically sometime in May to sometime in June
Ramadan is one of the most famous holidays in the world, an epic, month-long observance marked by intense fasting, pre-dawn meals and nighttime feasts. Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a time of charity, discipline, reflection, and prayer. It’s the most sacred month of the Islamic year and was founded by Mohammed himself. At the end of Ramadan, the massive celebration Eid-al-Fitr kicks off the month of Shawwal with feasts, sweets, gifts, shopping, and special prayers.
Dragon Boat Festival
Date: Fifth day of the fifth lunar month, usually late May or early June
This festival, known in Chinese at the Duanwu Festival, has many origin stories. A popular idea is that it honors the death of the ancient poet Qu Yuan. A political exile, he eventually committed suicide by drowning in a river; in some tellings, the boat races are said to commemorate the effort of the people who rushed out to save him.
Dragon boat races are exciting and a lot of fun to watch. Families also make zongzi, a traditional pyramid-shaped concoction made of sticky rice and other fillings.
Date: Fifteenth day of the eighth month, usually mid-September
Celebrated: China (also Vietnam)
You might already know this festival for its famous mooncakes, pastries filled with lotus seed paste or bean paste. Mid-Autumn day is a harvest festival, not entirely unlike Thanksgiving in North America, and celebrates family, friendship, abundance, and luck.
Date: Celebrated over five days, typically sometime between mid-October and mid-November
This festival, also known as Deepavali, is so beautiful — participants light up their homes, offices, and businesses with thousands of lights to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. This hugely popular Hindu celebration is a time for cleaning, gathering with friends and family, putting on your best clothes and throwing generous bashes. Diwali is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs, which contributes to its massive popularity.
Have you traveled in India and China during any of these festivals? Do you participate in them yourself? I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments section.