Samui Wining & Dining
Chinese New Year on Samui is big, bold, brash – and you’re invited to the party.

Chinese New Year on Samui is big, bold, brash – and you’re invited to the party.A story out of the depths of time. In China, centuries ago, a monster used to rise out of the sea. It gave no thought for humans. It laid waste to the fields, and killed everyone it found in its path. Nian is the name people gave to it. Nian means ‘year’. Because, every year, before spring, it came, once again out of the water to destroy everything and everyone.


People didn’t have weapons to match its ferocity. But it was, at least, an animal. And therein lay its undoing. Villagers everywhere learned how to defeat it. There were two ways, and both had to be employed at the same time, and on the largest scale possible. Here’s what happened: the entire community dressed in bright red. That alone scared the beast. The rest was done by noise. As much noise as possible had to be made. The Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks, and these prevailed. A night filled with explosions drove Nian away – until the next year. And then he’d come again, only to face the same deafening opposition. He was always defeated, and the custom of wearing red and letting off firecrackers has continued down through the centuries, to the present day. Has it abated in any way? Not at all. It’s as loud as ever, as bright as ever, the defeat of Nian – the Chinese New Year – is a major celebration wherever there are Chinese communities.


On Samui there are many festivities, even if there don’t appear to be many Chinese here. There are, however, many descendants of Chinese who came to the island, as well as the neighbouring province of Suratthani. And there are many, many throughout Thailand. Everybody loves Chinese New Year, whether they’re Chinese, Thai or holidaymakers from elsewhere in the world. In the Thai calendar, it’s a major event, even if there’s no official holiday to mark it.


The New Year comes sandwiched between 1st January and the Thai New Year. It’s a lunar event, so it takes place on different days each year. This year, New Year’s Eve is on Friday 27th January. And unless you’re in the depths of some impenetrable jungle, you won’t miss it, it’s that noisy.


Everyone is welcome to join in the lively festivities; in fact, the more the merrier. Here are a few things you should know about celebrating Chinese New Year on Samui. Firstly, it’ll be a long night – full of bangs, loud and unexpected. It takes that much to scare off a mythical beast, so if you’re near any of the celebrations the only way to get some peace and quiet is to stock up on earplugs.


Expect traffic jams in Nathon, one of the main centres of celebration. Cars slow to a halt on the main road through town, and everything’s interrupted by a procession that goes from door to door along the street. Offerings are collected. Dragons weave in and out of the stores while celebrants accompany them. Cars get blessed and firecrackers go off, so many that the pavement is turns a deep autumn red. The procedure takes place in other towns, too, Chinese New Year on Samui is big, bold, brash – and you’re invited to the different times – it’s never known much in advance when that’ll be – and the main point, apart from scaring mythical beasts away, is to have as much fun as possible. Shops and houses will be decorated with red signs, all in Chinese script, along the lines of good luck, or happiness, wealth and longevity.


In China, the New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, the literal translation of the modern Chinese name. The celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Eve, the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month, making it the longest festival in the Chinese calendar.


Chinese New Year traditionally has three days, and on each, different rites are observed. On the first day you have to clean your house, apartment or shop and gather everything you’ll need for the following days.


The second day is always the last of the old year, and you should prepare food as offerings to the gods and also to your dead ancestors. Before feasting begins, paper money is burned. The food is then blessed and is eaten by the entire family. Since everything that’s been prepared has some sort of symbolism, everyone should partake of everything.


The third day is the first of the New Year, and is a time for just kicking back and relaxing. It has to be – the loud bangs will have gone on most of the night, and people will feel tired. It’s time to enjoy some leisure and see what’s going on. Whatever you do, you shouldn’t clean the house – the time for that is gone. If you do so it’s unlucky. And that bad luck is just waiting for you with a very long arm – so don’t even think of touching a broom. Similarly, Chinese-run businesses will close – working today may bring you profit but also bad luck. Similarly, don’t use any tools that have sharp edges. This isn’t the time to cut your hedge. And neither should you wash your hair. Don’t swear either, and avoid getting into a quarrel.


If you’d like to celebrate, you’re more than welcome to do so. Major epicentres will basically be anywhere with a largish Chinese temple. The main temple is in Nathon, and there’s also one in Maenam, then the Guan Yu Koh Samui shrine in Ban Hua Thanon.


Many people head for Nathon, where there’s a spectacular evening with food and drink. You’ll see a lion dance performed on metal poles of varying heights, and then watch with a mix of fascination and fear as a small child shins up an enormously long bamboo pole to the amazement of the crowds far below. The troupe then makes a very high human tower right outside the temple. You’ll see the same sort of show performed in Maenam, too.


Chinese New Year is definitely for everyone, young or old. It’s a memorable time, and if you bring your camera, you’ll be guaranteed some amazing shots of this very special occasion.


 Dimitri Waring


Copyright 2020 Samui Holiday Magazine. All rights reserved Siam Map Company Ltd.