Bali is one of those places where you can have the most memorable experiences possible. Being here for 10 months has really given a new perspective to our lives, and one of the reasons for that is that if you stay long enough you can take part in 5 different New Years celebrations! Especially if you lived in Thailand for two years before Bali and your kids keep the Thai New Year in their memory.
Three years ago we were in Bangkok and I was surprised when I realized that Thais take part in three different New Years celebrations: the Chinese, the Thai and the Western. Every single one a party in itself.
It was really quite interesting to be a part of it. Most countries in the world have celebrations for the Chinese New Year but usually within the Chinese community. In Bangkok though, you can celebrate three New Years anywhere in the city!
Now imagine you were a Thai / Chinese spending a year in Bali (or expats like ourselves): then you would live through 5 New Year celebrations! The Chinese New Year, the Western New Year, the Thai New Year (Songkran), the Muslim New Year (Muharram) and the Balinese New Year (Nyepi) also correspond to 4 different religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.
- Western New Years: The New Year’s celebration on the eve of December 31st is just like anywhere else in the world: dinner, midnight parties and countdowns, and yes in some cases you can get some Auld Lang Sang. We lived very close to a highly populated expat area in Bangkok, so midnight of December 31st was pretty lively and loud.
- Chinese New Year: The Asian New Years are a little different because they don’t fall on the same date every year, but rather are calculated according to a lunar cycle. The Chinese New Year and the Thai New Year both follow a Buddhist Lunar cycle but have subtle differences. The Chinese falls sometime in late January or early February. A month and a half after January 1st, all the Asian cities are decorated in red lanterns and Chinese lettering. The animal of the year is depicted everywhere, in decorations, clothing, life-size sculptures, you name it. In Bangkok, even though Chinatown is the center of the Chinese community, the celebrations spread all over the city with dancing street dragons and music.
- Songkran (Thai New Year): Two months after that (around the second and third week of April) is the Thai New Year, called Songkran. What most visitors remember about this day is the massive water fights all over the city, closing the streets from traffic. It is a lot more than that though; it’s really about cleansing your soul for the new cycle. There are religious ceremonies in all the temples, the Buddha figures are cleaned with holy water and everyone does acts of good merit. My children love Songkran, they find it incredibly fun and exciting. For three days you cannot escape the massive water fights unless you stay inside. The parties on the street are never-ending, and the music is extremely loud! It’s been a year since we left Thailand and they still want to “play songkran” while taking a bath.
- Muslim New Year: Bali is an island in Indonesia, a mostly Muslim country. Bali is a bit different to the other islands of Indonesia because the population here is mainly Hindu. There are quite a few Muslims in Bali though, and they celebrate the New Year on the 1st day of the month of Muharram. As the Muslim calendar is another kind of Lunar calendar, the date changes every year, but this coming year it will be in early October.
- Nyepi (Balinese Day of Silence): The Hindu Balinese on the other hand, celebrate Nyepi, their very own New Year, which falls sometime in March. Nyepi is also the Day of Silence; every single business closes for 24 hours, including the airport. All electricity is turned off, and there are no noises of any kind. If families have no children, then they might not even talk for the entire day.
Living in Bali long enough to celebrate all five in the same year is one of the most incredible things a family can experience and I am happy we are able to do it. These are the kinds of wonderful things that living in Asia does for your life.by