Winter Festivals Around the World: Asia

Depending on where you reside, you’ve probably noticed a pleasant crispness in the air, a new presence looming and constantly nipping at your nose whenever you step outside. Leaves may be falling off trees, you find yourself pulling out the thicker coats and sweaters you haven’t worn in months, and everything in the store is switching from pumpkin spice to peppermint. Winter is here.

Whether or not you particularly enjoy winter, it is hard not to call it the “holiday season”. Thanksgiving and Christmas are almost upon us and although Christmas can be seen as one of the more popular winter holidays, countries all over the world have their own winter celebrations. Over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting some of these interesting holidays around the world.


15th day of Kartik on the Hindu lunar calendar

Diwali, the festival of lights in India, is celebrated over the course of five days. It has Diwali_Festivalmany different connotations; it celebrates the autumn harvest and the blessings various gods and goddesses, who bring and help us to maintain both physical and spiritual wealth. It also coincides with the last day of Lord Rama’s 14 year exile from his home in the North Indian kingdom Avadha. Its citizens, who had long awaited their prince’s arrival, lit thousands of lamps to help guide him back to his ancestral home. The main rituals of the festival include lighting oil lamps and candles around one’s home, worshiping Lord Ganesha and the goddess Laxmi to summon health and wealth, and lighting firecrackers. However, exchanging gifts with loved ones and having large feasts are also becoming customary.

Dongzhi Festival

Winter Solstice (between December 21st to 23rd)

The Dongzhi Festival, or Winter Solstice Festival, in China literally translates to “the extreme of winter” and is a celebration of the return of longer days and a consequential 23788459972_69da8b00e3_oincrease of positive energy. Based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the day of the Dongzhi Festival is when Yin (negative energy) has hit its peak and will slowly decrease while Yang (positive energy) will now begin to increase. Families traditionally get together for a large meal where dumplings or tangyuan (rice balls with different fillings) are served. Dumplings are supposed to drive away frostbite while the tangyuan drive away ghosts and evil spirits!

New Year (in Japan)

January 1st

New Year is the most important holiday in Japan. As well as being a time to relax and 3657210894_c755cfc578_ospend time with family, each year is seen as being completely separate from each other, providing a fresh start. This also means that tasks meant to be completed by the end of the year shouldn’t be extended into the next and people even throw bonenkai parties (“year forgetting parties”) to leave the worries and troubles of last year in the past where they belong. Houses are cleaned, businesses shut down, and families get together to celebrate. Traditionally, front entrances are decorated with pine and bamboo and on New Year’s Eve toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served. January 1st is said to set the mood for the rest of the year, so people typically relax and have a cheerful day devoid of anger and stress (hence the cleaning beforehand). It is also traditional to visit a temple within the first few days of the new year, where bells are being rung until midnight.

Loi Krathong

Held on the full moon of the 12fth lunar month (Varying Dates in November)

Loi Krathong is a festival in Thailand that is held on the full moon of a year’s twelfth lunar month. The main tradition of the festival can be found in its name, literally translated as “to float a basket” or “to float a krathong”. Traditional Krathong are made from slices of banana tree trunk and decorated with banana leaves, incense, and a 7455424224_d0094ccd29_kcandle, although bread and styrofoam are also becoming popular options. The small vessel is meant to carry your bad luck into the distance and ensure a better start to the new year. If you want to really ensure your good luck, you can put something personal on the krathong, like a few strands of hair. Loi Krathong has become so popular, businesses create large elaborate krathongs and the festival features krathong-making contests, a beauty pageant, local games, and performances. The city Chiang Mai is a popular place to celebrate Loi Krathong, as it mixed with/preceded by the city’s own festival of Yi Peng, where people launch lanterns into the sky to let go of their bad luck and make wishes (though they will only come true if you do good deeds in the following year).

If visiting any of these festivals are of interest, contact us ! We’d love to help you find your destination.

Image Sources

Diwali Festival by  Khokarahman

Dōngzhì Festival Image by Reedz Malik

Kimono by themonnie

Thai Lanterns by Mark Fischer



Pre-Vacation Planning: Getting Your Affairs in Order

No one ever wants to be rushing around a week before a vacation to find a housesitter or, when trying to purchase something on vacation, find their credit cards have been frozen. As important as it is to plan the details of a vacation, it is perhaps even more important to plan for what you leave behind. This can be broken down into two categories: telling people you are going on vacation and caring for the things you leave behind.

  • Telling People You are Going on Vacation
    • No, this does not mean sending a tweet or making a facebook post. Think of things that you do day to day like going to work, perhaps participating in extracurricular activities, even using a credit card. The people associated with these things need to be alerted that you will be gone.
      • Do not post on social media. Although this may seem like the first and easiest way for you to start alerting people, posting on social media greatly increases your risk of a break in. Post after not before.
      • Alert your neighbors so that they aren’t surprised when the house seems empty or when a housesitter comes by to check in. This may even prompt them to keep an eye on the place and report any suspicious activity while you’re away.
      • If you are not on vacation at the time already, give notice at work that you will be going on holiday. The earlier you notify your boss the better, particularly if you plan to go during a busy season or a time when many people are planning to take time off. Although it isn’t usually required, the same goes for alerting extracurricular activities you or your child might be in.
      • Always be sure to alert your credit card companies when you are traveling, particularly out of the country. Many card companies will freeze people’s cards automatically if a purchase is made overseas since it is one of the more obvious signs of identity theft. Also be sure to confirm with them what countries their cards will work in, as this can be another issue that you will want to take care of before your vacation if they don’t. Some companies charge fees for foreign transactions as well and usually range between 2-5%, depending on the company. Be sure to discuss this with them to better keep track of your finances on vacation.
    • Like with packing, when trying to think about the things you will need cared for it is best to make a list.
      • There will likely be your home and perhaps pets if you have them at the top, but also remember to think about different things that you do that might influence others. For example, if you volunteer coach a children’s sports team or are perhaps part of a carpool system be sure to let those involved know and try to set up a new arrangement while you’re gone if necessary.
      • Housesitters can be important to avoid mishaps and break ins while you’re away and put your mind at ease. In fact, some insurance policies will not cover a break in if the house was not checked on for a certain amount of time. Be sure to look at your insurance policy before deciding not to get one. Often a house sitters main job is to make sure that the house is safe and not make it too obvious that you are away by doing small things like picking up the newspaper and taking the garbage in and out on the appropriate days. If you hire a housesitter, make a list for them of various things to do, garbage days, and emergency numbers. If you have decided against a house sitter, light timers can be used to simulate people at home.
      • Petsitters can be important and, especially during holiday seasons, should be found in advance. Depending on how often they come and much care your pet needs, housesitters can sometimes double as petsitters. If a housesitter plans to come by once a day, I highly suggest this arrangement with animals such as cats and fish who don’t require a lot of attention or exercise. For an animal like a dog or one that has to take medication, I suggest leaving it with a trusted friend or at a kennel. Particularly for dogs, kennels can actually be good petsitting solutions as they often have scheduled times for pets to play and get exercise. If your pet does require medication, make a list of their medication schedule and be sure to give their temporary caretaker extra just in case.

image by Austin Kirk:

China Interesting Fact
The Terra Cotta Warriors were built for the tomb of Emperor Qin, the first emperor of a unified China. These soldiers have become world famous because of their size, numbers, and amazing detail. There are over 6,000 life sized soldiers, no two being identical and all have different facial features. The army comes complete with horses, chariots, and weaponry but as the excavation continues, not just military statues but also acrobats, strongmen, and musicians are being excavated. The tomb has still not been opened since the site’s discovery in the 1970s out of fear of destroying the artifacts inside.  

Adventure of the Month: China

We’re back! Happy September everyone and sorry for being gone for the past few weeks,the start of school has thrown this blogger through a bit of a loop but I hope that I will now be able to post regularly once again. Since it is September and therefore one of the best times to visit this country, our Adventure of the Month is China.

Literally translating to “Middle Kingdom”, China is one of the four ancient civilizations, along with Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia. Today people still travel to China to get a glimpse of some of this country’s great historical feats and enigmatic ancient culture such as the Great Wall, Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City of Beijing.

We atOnsite Travel recommend visiting this country through a river cruise down the Yangzi:a 4-7 night cruise often coupled with flights and hotel stays to differenttourism sites farther away from the river. These vacation packages usuallyinclude visits to Beijing (where the Great Wall of China resides), Shanghai,and the Terracotta Warriors. We at Onsite Travel also recommend extensions toHong Kong and the Himalayas in Tibet if you wish to prolong your stay.

Tips for Chinese River Cruises

Viking tends to offer these cruises at the best price and often includes airfare in the vacation package, which can help save money as flights to China are expensive.
Along with being expensive, flights to China often to be very long and exhausting, so our travel agents strongly suggest booking your flights a few days earlier and staying overnight in a hotel to recuperate.
When flying from one site to another, the intertour flights in between the different locations tend to have strict policies against heavy baggage. Be sure to check on these restrictions and pack accordingly.
Remember you will need a Visa to travel to China, be sure to talk to your travel counselor and secure one before it is too late to cancel the cruise.
Throughout September we will be posting small “blurbs” on twitter (@onsite_travel)and at the bottom of our posts on travel tips with more facts about China and sites worth seeing.

Want to know more about booking a trip to China? Contact one of our travel agents! Or go on our travel site under “Cruises” to search for more Chinese vacations yourself.

Picture by Mikelmania