Lunar New Year is a traditional Asian festival that marks the first new moon in lunisolar calendars, which were used in many Asian countries until the Gregorian calendar became the common calendar. The lunisolar calendar is still used today to determine holidays. It is regulated by the Sun and the moon; a lunar year is the 12 cycles of the moon, which makes one year roughly 354 days.
Lunar New Year celebrations last up to 16 days. This year, the Lunar New Year started on Feb. 12 and ended on Feb. 26. It is commonly celebrated widely across many East Asian countries and some South Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, Singapore, and South Korea.
Before the start of the Lunar Year, it is customary for celebrators to repay debts, resolve old arguments, and clean their houses and themselves so that they can go into the new year with a fresh start. Though cleaning is customary beforehand, on New Year’s day there is no cleaning, as this is seen as sweeping away the good luck. Sweeping along with other cleansing activities such as taking out the garbage and showering are considered unlucky things to do on New Year’s Day.
At the start of the Lunar New Year, the lucky color red is seen all over town as celebrators show off red clothing and red accessories, such as small envelopes, are passed out at festivals. Red is seen as a lucky color as it is associated with the fire element, which represents life and light. On the other hand, white is unlucky to wear, as it is seen as unlucky and symbolizes the dead.
Red envelopes containing money are given out to children; depending on a family’s traditions, parents or elders and sometimes unmarried people receive one as well. The envelopes are supposed to bring good luck to both the giver and the receiver. Additionally, some families believe it is best to avoid the number four when giving money, as it is unlucky, and to seek out the number six or eight. Four is unlucky because it rhymes with the word death in Cantonese. Eight is lucky as in Cantonese and Mandarin it is similar to words for well-off and brings great wealth, six is also similar as it is pronounced like another word for well-off in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Another tradition is to hang the Chinese character fook, or fu in mandarin, upside down on a house’s front door during the New Year. The character means happiness or good luck, and the phrase “upside-down” is pronounced similarly to “arrive” in Chinese. In translation, it is customary for guests to say “your fu is upside-down”, which sounds similar to “your happiness has arrived.”
On New Year’s Eve, families gather together for a meal to celebrate. Though many regions or households have different customs, there still exists overarching commonalities among dishes served. The foods have special meanings that relate to the New Year. Some common dishes are spring rolls, which celebrate the coming of spring; dumplings, which represent welcoming to the new year while wishing the old year away; long noodles, which represent long life, and when paired with other ingredients can hold other special wishes; steamed fish, which represent wealth as it has the same pronunciation in Mandarin as “surplus”, and finally oranges, as they look like gold coins to bring wealth.
Each year represents a different animal in the Chinese Zodiac. In total there are 12 animals: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. This year celebrates the year of the Ox. When it is an individual’s zodiac year, it is seen as a year that they will have to overcome. During their year they will have to protect themselves from bad spirits.
During Lunar New Year there are also lion dances. The lion dance is a traditional Chinese dance that is performed during big events. In Chinese culture, lions represent power and wisdom. The lion dance is extremely important during Lunar New Year and is performed to bring good luck, wealth, and success, as well as chase away bad spirits. The dance is performed in a lion costume, often colored red or yellow, and is accompanied by music with drums, gongs, and cymbals.
The Covid pandemic has affected the way the Lunar new year is celebrated. As large crowds are avoided, many in-person elements of the celebrations had been canceled, such as lion dances, and had instead been opted out for online alternatives. Some families may also join each other virtually, to share a meal together via a zoom call instead of a dining table.
Lunar New Year is an important festival for many, celebrating prosperity, wealth, and luck while transferring into a new year. May the new year bring health, prosperity, and good luck. Kung Hei Fat Choi!