What You Must Know About Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is a major festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year based on the lunar calendar or the lunisolar calendar.

It is observed by billions of people across the world, especially in East and Southeast Asia. Lunar New Year is also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, Tết, and other names depending on the culture and region.

What You Know About Lunar New Year in this article is the history, traditions, zodiac animals, and greetings of Lunar New Year, as well as some fun facts and frequently asked questions.

What is the History of Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is thought to date back to the 14th century BC, when the Shang dynasty ruled in China. Its origins are steeped in legend.

One story says that a monster named Nian (“Year”) attacked villagers at the start of every year. Nian was afraid of loud noises, bright lights, and the color red.

People used these things to chase the beast away. This is why fireworks, firecrackers, lanterns, and red decorations are common during Lunar New Year celebrations.

Another story says that the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, held a race among 12 animals to decide the order of the zodiac signs. The rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig competed for the honor.

The rat was clever and rode on the back of the ox, then jumped ahead at the last moment to win the race.

The pig was lazy and came in last. The Jade Emperor assigned each animal a year in the cycle, and people born in that year are said to have the characteristics of that animal.

What are the Traditions of Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is a time for family reunions, feasts, prayers, gifts, and wishes for good fortune in the new year. The celebrations usually last for 15 days, from the first day of the first lunar month to the 15th day, which is the Lantern Festival. The date of Lunar New Year varies every year, but it usually falls between January 21 and February 20 in the Gregorian calendar.

The Common Traditions of Lunar New Year are:

Cleaning the House

People clean their houses thoroughly before Lunar New Year to get rid of any bad luck left over from the old year and to welcome the new year with a fresh start. However, sweeping or dusting on the first day of the new year is considered bad luck, as it may sweep away the good fortune that has just arrived.

Decorating the House

People decorate their houses with red for good luck and gold for wealth. They also hang couplets, which are pairs of poetic phrases written on red paper, on the doors and walls.

The couplets usually express wishes for happiness, prosperity, longevity, and peace. Some people also display paper cutouts, which are intricate designs of animals, flowers, or characters, on the windows or lanterns. Another popular decoration is the kumquat tree, which symbolizes abundance and success.

Giving Red Envelopes

One of the most exciting traditions for children is receiving red envelopes, which are small packets containing money, from their elders.

The red envelopes are also called hongbao in Mandarin, lai see in Cantonese, or ang pao in Hokkien. The amount of money varies, but it is usually an even number and should not contain the number four, which sounds like “death” in Chinese. The red envelopes are meant to convey blessings and good wishes, as well as to ward off evil spirits.

Eating Special Foods

Food is an important part of Lunar New Year celebrations, as it represents abundance and harmony. Different regions and cultures have different cuisines and dishes, but some of the common ones are:

Watching Performances

Lunar New Year is also a time for entertainment and culture, as people watch various performances and shows that showcase the rich and diverse heritage of the regions and communities. Some of the popular performances are:

  • Dragon Dance: This is a spectacular display of a long, colorful dragon puppet that is manipulated by a team of dancers. The dragon is a symbol of power and good fortune in Chinese culture, and the dance is meant to bring rain, prosperity, and harmony. The dragon puppet can be made of different materials, such as paper, silk, bamboo, or metal, and can be up to 100 meters long. The dancers move the dragon in a coordinated and rhythmic way, following the beats of drums, cymbals, and gongs.
  • Lion Dance: This is a lively and energetic performance of a lion costume that is worn by two dancers, one controlling the head and the other controlling the body. The lion is a symbol of courage and strength in Chinese culture, and the dance is meant to ward off evil and bring good luck. The lion costume can be of different colors, such as red, yellow, green, or white, and can have different styles, such as northern, southern, or Taiwanese. The dancers mimic the movements and expressions of a lion, such as roaring, blinking, wagging the tail, and playing with a ball or a lettuce. The lettuce is a symbol of wealth, as the word for lettuce, sheng cai, sounds like the word for rising fortune, sheng cai.
  • Fireworks and Firecrackers: These are explosive devices that create loud noises and bright sparks. They are used to scare away the evil monster Nian, as well as to celebrate the arrival of the new year. Fireworks and firecrackers are set off throughout the festival, but especially on the eve of the new year and the first day. They create a festive and joyful atmosphere, and are often accompanied by music and cheers.

What are the Zodiac Animals of Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is also associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, which are the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig.

Each animal has a year in the cycle, and people born in that year are said to have the personality traits and characteristics of that animal. For example, people born in the Year of the Rat are said to be smart, adaptable, and resourceful, while people born in the Year of the Ox are said to be diligent, loyal, and reliable.

The zodiac animals also have an influence on the fortune and compatibility of people in different aspects of life, such as career, health, love, and wealth. Some people consult the zodiac signs to make decisions or plan for the future, while others just enjoy reading the horoscopes for fun. The zodiac signs can also be used to determine the best times to do certain things, such as getting married, traveling, or starting a business.

The zodiac animal for 2024 is the dragon, which is the fifth animal in the cycle.

zodiac animal for 2024 is the dragon

How to Greet People During Lunar New Year?

One of the most common ways to greet people during Lunar New Year is to say “Happy New Year” in their language.

For example:

in Mandarin Chinese, you can say “Xīnnián kuàilè” (新年快乐), which means “Happy New Year”.

In Cantonese, you can say “Gong hei fat choy” (恭喜发财), which means “Wishing you happiness and prosperity”.

In Vietnamese, you can say “Chúc mừng năm mới”, which means “Happy New Year”.

In Korean, you can say “Saehae bok manhi badeuseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요), which means “Receive a lot of blessings in the new year”.

In Japanese, you can say “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (あけましておめでとうございます), which means “Congratulations on the new year”.

Besides these general greetings, there are also some specific phrases that express different wishes and blessings for the new year.

For example,

in Mandarin Chinese, you can say “Nǐn nián dàjí” (年年大吉), which means “May you have great luck every year”.

In Cantonese, you can say “San tai gin hong” (身体健康), which means “Wishing you good health”.

In Vietnamese, you can say “An khang thịnh vượng”, which means “Wishing you peace and prosperity”.

In Korean, you can say “Seollal jal bonaeseyo” (설날 잘 보내세요), which means “Have a good Lunar New Year”.

In Japanese, you can say “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (今年もよろしくお願いします), which means “Please treat me well this year too”.

When greeting people during Lunar New Year, it is also customary to bow or shake hands, and to smile and exchange compliments.

Some people also give red envelopes, which are small packets containing money, to their relatives, friends, or employees as a way of showing gratitude and generosity.

The amount of money varies, but it is usually an even number and should not contain the number four, which sounds like “death” in some languages. The red envelopes are also called “hongbao” in Mandarin, “lai see” in Cantonese, “li xi” in Vietnamese, “sebaetdon” in Korean, and “otoshidama” in Japanese.

What are Some Fun Facts About Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is a festival full of rich and diverse traditions, customs, and meanings. Here are some fun facts that you may not know about Lunar New Year:

  1. Lunar New Year is the longest public holiday in China, lasting for 8 days from the first to the eighth day of the first lunar month. However, the festivities begin on the 23rd day of the last lunar month, which is called the “Little Year”, and end on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which is the “Lantern Festival”.
  1. Lunar New Year is also called “Spring Festival” in China, because it marks the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring. However, in some places, such as northern China, the weather is still cold and snowy during Lunar New Year. Therefore, some people also call it the “Winter Festival”.
  1. Lunar New Year is not only celebrated in China, but also in many other Asian countries and regions, such as Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Tibet.

Each place has its own name, date, and way of celebrating Lunar New Year. For example, in Vietnam, it is called “Tết Nguyên Đán”, which means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. In Korea, it is called “Seollal”, which means “New Year’s Day”. In Japan, it is called “Shōgatsu”, which means “New Year”.

  1. Lunar New Year is also influenced by the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, which are the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. Each animal has a year in the cycle, and people born in that year are said to have the personality traits and characteristics of that animal.
  1. Lunar New Year is a time for family reunions, feasts, prayers, gifts, and wishes for good fortune in the new year. Some of the common traditions and activities of Lunar New Year are: cleaning the house, decorating the house with red and gold, giving red envelopes, eating special foods, watching performances, setting off fireworks and firecrackers, visiting temples, paying respects to ancestors, and exchanging greetings. However, some traditions and activities may vary depending on the region, culture, and personal preference.

Conclusion

Lunar New Year is a fascinating and meaningful festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year based on the lunar or lunisolar calendar. It is observed by billions of people across the world, especially in East and Southeast Asia.

Lunar New Year is also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, Tết, and other names depending on the culture and region. In this article, you learned about the history, traditions, zodiac animals, and greetings of Lunar New Year, as well as some fun facts and frequently asked questions.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new about Lunar New Year. We also wish you a happy and prosperous Lunar New Year!

FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers that are related to Lunar New Year, but are not covered in the main article.

Why is the color red so important for Lunar New Year?

The color red is considered to be auspicious, lucky, and festive in Chinese culture. It is also believed to ward off evil spirits and bad luck.

According to a legend, a monster named Nian would attack villagers every Lunar New Year’s Eve, and it was afraid of loud noises, bright lights, and the color red.

Therefore, people used red decorations, firecrackers, and lanterns to scare the beast away. This is why red is the dominant color for Lunar New Year celebrations.

What are some of the foods that are eaten during Lunar New Year?

Food is an important part of Lunar New Year celebrations, as it represents abundance and harmony. Different regions and cultures have different cuisines and dishes, but some of the common ones are:

  • Dumplings: These are crescent-shaped pastries filled with meat or vegetables. They symbolize wealth, as they resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots. Some people hide a coin or a candy inside a dumpling, and whoever finds it will have good luck in the new year.
  • Spring Rolls: These are cylindrical pastries filled with meat or vegetables. They are fried until golden and crispy, and resemble gold bars. They symbolize prosperity and wealth.
  • Fish: This is a must-have dish for the new year’s eve dinner, as it signifies abundance and surplus. The word for fish in Chinese, yu, sounds like the word for surplus, yu. The fish should be served whole, with the head and tail intact, to symbolize completeness and continuity. It is also customary to leave some fish uneaten, to ensure that there will be more than enough in the new year.
  • Noodles: These are long strands of dough that are boiled, fried, or stir-fried. They symbolize longevity and happiness, and should not be cut or broken. Some people also eat rice cakes, which are sliced and cooked with sugar or savory ingredients. They symbolize growth and advancement, as the word for rice cake, nian gao, sounds like the word for higher, gao.
  • Sweet Treats: These are various snacks and desserts that are eaten throughout the festival, such as candied fruits, nuts, seeds, cookies, and cakes. They symbolize sweetness and joy, and are often served on a tray of togetherness, which is a circular or octagonal plate with eight compartments, each containing a different treat. The number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture, as it sounds like the word for fortune, fa.

What are some of the performances that are watched during Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is also a time for entertainment and culture, as people watch various performances and shows that showcase the rich and diverse heritage of the regions and communities. Some of the popular performances are:

  • Dragon Dance: This is a spectacular display of a long, colorful dragon puppet that is manipulated by a team of dancers. The dragon is a symbol of power and good fortune in Chinese culture, and the dance is meant to bring rain, prosperity, and harmony. The dragon puppet can be made of different materials, such as paper, silk, bamboo, or metal, and can be up to 100

What is the Lantern Festival and when is it celebrated?

The Lantern Festival is the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations, which falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It is also known as the Shangyuan Festival, the Yuanxiao Festival, or the Chap Goh Mei Festival. On this day, people admire the full moon, light lanterns, solve riddles, eat tangyuan or yuanxiao, and watch various performances. The Lantern Festival is a time for reunion, joy, and gratitude. In 2024, the Lantern Festival will be celebrated on February 24.

What are the meanings and origins of the zodiac animals?

The zodiac animals are 12 creatures that represent the years in a 12-year cycle, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. They are the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. Each animal has its own personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, and compatibility with other animals. People born in a certain year are said to have the characteristics of that animal. For example, people born in the Year of the Dragon are said to be powerful, confident, and ambitious, while people born in the Year of the Pig are said to be generous, honest, and loyal3.

The origins of the zodiac animals are based on legends and myths. One of the most popular stories is that the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, held a race among the animals to decide the order of the zodiac signs. The rat was clever and rode on the back of the ox, then jumped ahead at the last moment to win the race. The pig was lazy and came in last.

The Jade Emperor assigned each animal a year in the cycle, and people born in that year are said to have the characteristics of that animal. Another story is that the Buddha invited all the animals to visit him before he left the earth, but only 12 animals showed up. He rewarded them by naming a year after each of them, in the order of their arrival.

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Last modified: February 10, 2024

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