Lunar New Year is a celebration of the first new moon of the lunar calendar. The celebration begins on the day of the first new moon and ends 15 days later on the day of the first full moon. Although commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year is celebrated in many East and South East Asian countries, along with Asian communities all around the world. Each country's traditions and celebrations are unique to their own culture, but the holiday is based on the traditional lunisolar calendar of China. In Chinese cultures around the world, Lunar New Year is the most important and festive holiday of the year. (1)
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The Chinese Lunar calendar was created to help farmers keep track of their crops during the changing of the seasons. There were no advanced astronomical tools to be able to measure the moon in this way, so the Chinese Lunar Calendar is considered the earliest instrument of astronomical observations. On the day after the first new moon, the sun enters a new zodiac sign. Every year in the Lunar calendar is represented by one of the twelve zodiac animals. Each year corresponds with an element and can carry a certain energy. The story of the zodiac is that there was a race organized by the Jade Emperor, who invited all the animals in the world to participate. Each animal faced its specific journey in this race, and when crossing the finish line, it earned its place in the Chinese Zodiac. The 12 zodiac animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. (2)
2022 is the Year of the Tiger, specifically the Water Tiger. Celebrations culminate on the 1st of February and last until February 15th, when the lantern festival will be held. The Tiger is the third of the Chinese zodiac. According to legend, the Tiger was so confident that no one could compete with him in the Jade Emperor’s race, yet was beaten by the rat for its cunning and the ox for its diligence. The Tiger is understood as the king of all beasts in China. The zodiac symbolizes strength, braveness, and releasing evil and is seen as action-oriented. People born in the year of the Tiger are vigorous, ambitious, daring, enthusiastic, generous, natural leaders, self-confident, and committed to fighting for justice. Those born in the year of the Water Tiger are said to be very family-oriented and successful in close relationships. (3)
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The first dated Lunar New Year celebration in China can be traced back to before 475 BC. The ancient Chinese classical text, called the Lüshi Chunqiu, discussed a ritual that happens on the last day of the year to expel illness, called Big Nuo. This ritual continued, and developed into the tradition of ‘sweeping the grounds’. Other ancient texts discuss rituals to bless family and the home with good luck for the upcoming year.
Although the first recorded evidence of this celebration is from around 475 BC, Lunar New Year originated thousands of years ago and has often been explained through legends. One legend holds that there is a beast, named Nian, that feasted on human flesh on New Year’s Day. Nian feared the color red, loud noises, and fire, which led people to pasting red decorations on their doors, burning lanterns all night, and lighting fireworks to scare Nian away. (4)
Because the dates of the new moon changes every year, Lunar New Year does not always fall on the same day. About 10 days before the new moon, people participate in a custom called ‘sweeping of the grounds’, that involves thoroughly cleaning houses and tying up loose ends to remove any lingering bad luck or evil spirits and start fresh for the new year. On the day of the New Year, shops and vendors are closed, so the time leading up is often spent shopping for gifts. It is common to exchange gifts during this time, and the value of the gift is often dependent on the status of the giver and receiver. These days, it is common to exchange gifts like specially-prepared foods, flowers, and small peach trees. Colorful prints of the Kitchen god, ripe fruit, and smiling babies are also common as well as couplets expressing wishes of good fortune. Often, older people in families will give young people lai see, or red envelopes that contain a small amount of money, to wish prosperity and good fortune. Individually, people tend to introspectively look back on their past, and reach out to old friends to connect or try to solve lingering problems.
The eve and day of the New Year are traditionally spent with family for celebrations and religious ceremonies to honor ancestors. Celebrations, fireworks, and dancing are common throughout the 15 days of the holiday, and culminate with the Lantern Festival on the final day. This consists of colorful lanterns lighting up the house, and eating traditional foods, like yuanxiao (sticky rice balls symbolizing family) and fagao (prosperity cake).
The Lantern Festival, or Shangyuan Festival, is celebrated on the full moon, or the 15th day of the lunisolar calendar. It marks the final day of the Lunar New Year celebration. During this festival, children will go out at night carrying lanterns and solving riddles that are on them. These lanterns symbolize people letting go of their past selves and gaining new ones in the new year. They are almost always red to represent good fortune. The Lantern Festival has a history of romance and was closely associated with love in ancient China. Today, these festivals often include grand displays of lanterns, often sculpted to look like a dragon or a tree. It is also common to fly the lanterns and light up the sky. There are many traditional dances and performances, like the Lion dance, or wǔshī, which has two dancers wearing a single lion suit, moving with the beat of the music. This festival is a time for people to have fun, spread love, and enjoy the company of their family and friends. (5)
In China, people will hang pictures of various gods, like the Kitchen God or the Door God, to protect the home and bring good fortune. The holiday is very evident in China, as all the streets and homes are covered in red decorations and flowers. Fish is usually a part of the last meal of the previous year for good luck. In Vietnamese culture, to celebrate Lunar New Year, or Tết, homes are decorated with kumquat trees and flowers. Food generally consists of 5-fruit platters to honor their ancestors. Families also eat bánh chưng, a rice cake with beans and pork wrapped in bamboo leaves, and dried fruit or roasted seed with sugar. Celebrating Seollal, in Korea, is shown also with fruit trees and flowers, and people add decorative cranes to their homes to symbolize longevity. They also wear a traditional clothing called Hanbok for formal occasions like this. In Tibet, they celebrate Losar with children bringing gifts of traditional clothing, cooked meats, dumplings, fruit, sweets, and bread to their elders.
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Lunar New Year has been celebrated for thousands of years, across many different cultures. Each person has a different connection to the holiday and different ways to celebrate. Hopefully you now have an understanding of the importance of this beautiful holiday, and you can celebrate along with billions of people around the world. From us at The Qi, we wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year full of luck and blessings!