A Glimpse Into New Year’s Traditions Around The World

Having lived and worked in six different countries in the past ten years, I have come to appreciate what binds us together as one human race. One such example is the idea of a New Year. Now, while the idea of having a fresh year annually is universal, the ‘when’ differs. Officially we welcome a new year on the first of January every calendar year. However, when you trace back a cultural identity to its roots, new beginnings are marked by seasons. Here are a few global New Year festivals.

A glimpse at one of the Shankranti traditions: Creating elaborate Rangoli decorations at the entrance of the house.

Shankranti (January 14)

The parties are officially hosted on New Year’s Eve with many people staying awake through the night to usher in the next year. However, before a global calendar was followed, the official start of the year was Shankranti, Maghi, Mag Bihu or Pongal. It is a festival that marks the first day of the Sun’s journey out of the winter solstice.

Mooncakes can taste divine or they can taste a bit dodgy, depending on the filling you prefer. I prefer the sweeter ones with Pandan or custard fillings. But whatever your individual taste, they are works of art!

Chinese New Year (February 8)

Celebrated by Chinese people and people of Chinese origin globally in February, this festival marks the beginning of the spring harvest season. It is often celebrated by sharing moon cakes and gifting red envelopes with money. You know it’s coming up to the New Year when you see colourful dragons and stunning lanterns on display. 

Nyepi (March 9)

This is the Balinese New Year and marks the first day of the Saka lunar-based Calendar. Instead of a fireworks and fanfare, the Balinese welcome the New Year with some mindfulness and rest. Most spend their day in silence, reflecting on the year gone by and making plans for the next year. Everything on the island is closed save for emergency services.

Nowruz (March 20)

While this festival is the mark of Spring, Nowrus is celebrated as the start of the New Year, when winter is over and life begins anew in nature. Zoroastrian and Baha’I communities celebrate their new year by cleaning out their houses and their lives, leaving space for new beginnings and resolutions.

Aluth Avurudda (April 14)

This Sinhalese festival, unlike other traditional New Year festivities, marks the end of the harvest season. Coinciding with Tamil New Year and Kerala New Year (Vishu), the New Year is celebrated with freshly harvested food, sweet treats, new clothes and spending quality time with family.

Rosh Hashanah (October 2)

The traditional Jewish New Year is a two-day holiday that commemorates the end of the seven days of creation as mentioned in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. The celebration is a subtle melange between festive cheer and quiet contemplation. 

Raʼs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah (October 3)

Marking the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim Calendar, the Islamic New Year is a celebration of the emigration (called Hijra) of Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. The New Year is ushered in by the first sighting of the moon.

Murador New Year (October 30)

Murador is a Western Australian Aborignal tribe that celebrates New Year’s Day every year on October the 30th. The day is earmarked as a time for friendship, for being grateful for the year just gone by and for making amends with family and friends you have fallen out with. While the Murador people are now extinct, many Australians mark this day in their own way.

The Subtle Art Of Blending

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Bangkok green spaces! #parks #thailand #skytrain

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If you’ve come here for a makeup tutorial, I’m afraid you’re going to be very disappointed – not just at my serious inability at the art, but also at this post’s lack of anything useful. I’m talking more in terms of our ability, as humans, to blend into whatever situation/geographic location/circumstance we are thrown into.

I’m coming up to two years in Thailand and I walk the roads that once cause me anxiety like its something I’ve always done. I am able to hail a cab and direct the driver without breaking a sweat. I walk past monitor lizards like they are neighbourhood strays. I add P’ (polite prefix that means brother or sister) in front of people’s name and end my  sentences with a ka, even when I’m travelling out of Thailand. I have blended in so much that I don’t even break a sweat at 37 degrees heat, I know the corners of the skytrain to squeeze into during rush hour, and I carry flip flops and an umbrella in my bag because duh, how could you not?

Humans have an ability to adapt to anything, and to do it without even realising it. When I went home for a short break home a few weeks ago, I casually mentioned something funny P’Thor did or that the mister’s favourite student is Boeing. It took me a while figure out that the looks of confusion and the extra jovial laughter was because they still think of Thailand, its quirks and culture, as strange.

I didn’t even bat an eye-lid when I found out that Boeing’s younger sister is called Airbus. I just nodded. It’s now a completely normal name to me. In my new world, evening markets are a norm, mom and pop ramen shops are around every corner, just next to a 7/11. Cats say me-o, trains make a ‘poon poon’ sound, and saying ka does not make you an imitator of crows! I am at ease with people in various stages of transition, and am never confused about what pronoun to use for whom.

Funny this transition from strange to familiar.

Ayutthaya: For When You Just Need A Stroll Through History

Aytthaya Railway Station

I am a big fan of losing yourself in a place that has captured time in a perfectly preserved loop. When all of the world (and its news) gets overwhelming, there’s nothing more therapeutic than taking a stroll through a site that vibrates with the exciting hum of history. Ayutthaya is just the place you need.

Ayutthaya UNESCO Heritage Site

If you have one day to spare, and approximately THB 20, you can be well on your way to experiencing this UNESCO World Heritage Site for yourself. Even more exciting is the opportunity to fill your Instagram with stunning Lonely Planetesque photos that will make you the envy of all your friends. All you have to do is go to the Bangkok Railway station at Hua Lamphong, and buy a ticket for the 8:30am train for THB 20 (you can buy tickets to a fancier carriage with AC but where’s the fun in that?).

Bangkok Railway Station

Here’s a pro tip for you: If you’re at the station before 8:00, you will witness first-hand something completely awe-inspiring. At 8:00 sharp, everyone stops what they’re doing, stands in attention, and lets their inner patriot shine to the sound of the Thai National Anthem, playing loud and proud throughout the station. If you’re caught unawares, and on the verge of a panic attack, put all thoughts of ‘No Escape’ out of your head (it was a movie based on FICTION!), and take it all in. While the gathering of all the guards can be a bit overwhelming, this is just as essential a part of the true Thailand experience as eating a Mango Sticky Rice is.

Train to Ayutthaya

The journey to Ayutthaya is in itself an adventure. The trains are old fashioned, and travelling on it doesn’t just take you to your destination, it also takes you back in time. It’s slow going but it’s the perfect way to ease into the Ayutthaya experience. If you’ve brought a book, it’s going to have to get used to feeling ignored. Your co-passengers and the incredible views outside the window weave a captivating story you won’t want to miss.

Ayutthaya Historical Park

The Ayutthaya Historical Park is technically an island and so you can rent bikes just outside the railway station, or try to navigate your way through a 100 tuk tuk drivers trying to catch your attention. My favourite way to get to the island is to cross the road from the railway station and walk down a small road till I see the Chao Praya River. Once at the river, just pay THB 5 and a kick-ass female driver will ferry you across to the island. If you’re a bit intimated by the lack of tourists using this option, don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe, albeit a bit unknown.

Wat Mahatat Ayutthaya Historical Park
Wat Mahatat: A restored Buddha, surrounded by partially recovered Buddha statues. 

Once you’re at the other side of the river, you can rent a cycle for THB 50, or a scooter for THB 200 a day. We went for the cycle option as it really helps give you a real glimpse into the ancient city. Ayutthaya is easy to navigate, but if your sense of direction is a bit off, your cycle will often come with a map.

Wat Mahatat Ayutthaya
Wat Mahatat: One of the most photographed ruins.

Walking into the historical park is mind-blowing. They are ruins, yes. But they are so monumental that your brain will automatically fill in the missing gaps. You can almost imagine the glory of Ayutthaya as it was in its prime. This was the capital of Thailand until the 18th century until it moved to Bangkok because of Burmese invasion. 

Here are some photos of my favourite temples.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet Ayutthaya Historical Park
Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet Ayutthaya Historical Park 2
Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Lokayasutharam Ayutthaya Historical Park
Wat Lokayasutharam: Nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of this masterpiece.

Ayutthaya Traffic Jam
Ayutthaya’s version of a traffic jam.

The historical park is home to a myriad of temples, each with its own unique charm so you’ll never get bored. If you’re looking for a change of pace, you can always rent a ride on an elephant. When in Thailand, eh?

We Live In Trump’s World Now

A few weeks ago I had a run in with an middle-aged American man. I haven’t had any confrontation with anyone here since I moved hear nearly 2 years ago. While there’s always a bit of subtle racism going on in this country, I’ve never felt like I don’t belong here. It is why this incident stood out in my mind.

My partner and I were having a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll down one of the many charming streets in Bangkok, and we could hear Darth Vader huffing and puffing behind us. He took offence to us strolling and wanted to overtake us but didn’t want to waste his breath on an ‘excuse me’. He decided to spend it grumbling instead.

Being the overly sensitive person that I am, I told my partner to give way so Mr Grumpy could walk ahead. When I did that, he loudly threw a few choice expletives at us. I don’t know if he assumed I was Thai and therefore didn’t speak English or if I was another clueless native, but he didn’t seem to care that he was being a complete jerk.

When I reacted with a ‘wow, calm down old man!’, he screamed a few more expletives at us and then said something about Donald Trump and free speech. He did all this without so much as looking at us. He just kept walking ahead of us slow enough for us to hear his opinions.

Funny thing is, we both live in a military run country with a very strong monarchy. The rules of Lèse-majesté are enforced here. Foreigners have to do a 90 day report to immigration in which we mention our place of residence and the details of our social media accounts, doesn’t matter which country you are from. However, Donald Trump winning the American elections somehow means that his ‘no-holds-barred’ rules apply even in this part of the world (at least in the minds of the MAGA clan).

While pondering this as we continued to stroll (ain’t nobody going to ruin our Sunday!), we saw him standing at the shade of a tree, out of breath, red, flustered, I saluted him. He called me a bitch after I walked ahead of where he was. Being the feisty person that I am, I went back and asked him what he said. I thought he would have a heart attack. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t so brave when I asked him to uphold his freedom of speech in front of my face.

Its the debate with no clear answer- do you confront people like this? Or do you just shrug it of? Or will shrugging it off give them more reason to spread their mindset? Or will it be the confrontation that changes them from being moderate to extreme right wing. At the end of the day, in my head, a white man insulted me and thought it was okay to do it because of Donald Trump’s weird version of freedom of speech. In his head, a brown lady (debateable!) got all up in his face.

Anyway, we did manage to get the great views we were hoping to get on our long walk (more on that in the next N-N-1), but we also did run across this ironic graffiti ‘art’ just next to it.

Views From A Concrete Tower

Sometimes I like to imagine that it’s crisp and sweater-weather like outside. Pollution? What pollution?

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A hazy Bangkok Friday! #thailand #bangkok #skyline #smog

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