What is the Lunar New Year?

launching a balloon

What is the Lunar New Year? It is the start of the year for calendars that use the lunar cycle, from new moon to dark moon, as their months which form a year. Some countries such as China use a combination of lunar months and solar cycles known as the lunisolar calendar[1]. In Vietnamese communities, the new year is known as Tet. For Korean communities, it is Seollal. In Chinese cultures, it is often called the Spring Festival.

The Lunar New Year is‟… [the] festival typically celebrated in China and other Asian countries that begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, 15 days later.[2]” In San Diego, where we have many people from various Asian cultures, it is a big city-wide event celebrated over the weekend. From my experience with corporate life, in China and elsewhere, the whole community shuts down for the 15 days to celebrate. This is akin to how the US shuts down for two weeks between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

It is traditional to clean your house before the Spring Festival to ensure good luck for the coming year by sweeping out the bad luck. ‟Also on New Year’s day, family members receive red envelopes (lai see) containing small amounts of money. Dragon dances and fireworks are prevalent throughout the holidays, culminating in the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the last day of the New Year’s celebrations.[2]”

The red envelopes contain money, usually in the form of coins. This represents having a prosperous new year when you start with money in hand. The envelopes are given you children from their parents and other family members. The festival is filled with sweets and favorite foods, which means you’ll have sweetness in the new year. The celebration is about starting off the new year on the right step, setting up your luck and prosperity.

The tradition of celebrating the New Year on the lunar cycle is thousands of years old. There is a story told of a monstrous beast who eats humans every New Year’s Day. People figured out that the beast feared the color red, fire, and loud noises. This is the mythical reason for the firecrackers, red decorations, and lanterns. They drive off evil spirits and bad luck.[2]

Here are some things you should know about the Lunar New Year celebration.

  • It’s not called Chinese New Year, even in China.
  • It’s not one day. It lasts for 15 days.
  • It’s the season for superstitions.
  • There are words to avoid because they sound like things which are bad luck.
  • Firecrackers scare away monsters.
  • Wear red for good luck.
  • It’s time for sweets, so take a break from your diet or no-sweets resolution.
  • It has its own movie genre in China and Hong Kong.
  • The customs and traditions vary from country to country, and region to region.
  • Enjoy the celebration!

Look for your local celebration of Lunar New Year. In San Diego, there is a big celebration in the City Heights area every year. As they say in Cantonese, ‟Gong Hay Fat Choi” or Happy New Year!

[1] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_New_Year
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lunar-New-Year
[3] CNN, https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/lunar-new-year-things-to-know/index.html

2 thoughts on “What is the Lunar New Year?

  1. Pingback: Why is There a New Animal Every Lunar New Year? | Golden Leopard Kempo

  2. Pingback: The Difference Between the Dragon Dance and the Lion Dance | Golden Leopard Kempo

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