Lunar New Year is celebrated by an estimated 2 billion people around the world. It’s a holiday that marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar. Those who celebrate typically do so over multiple days, and celebrations often include beautiful fireworks displays, traveling to hometowns to spend time with family and friends, eating delicious meals that include foods symbolizing luck and prosperity and honoring traditions that vary from country to country.
Whether you’re looking for fun ideas on how to celebrate or just want to learn more about what Lunar New Year is all about, you’re in the right place!
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So, what exactly is Lunar New Year? Lunar New Year is a national holiday observed each year between late January and early February over multiple days in many East and Southeast Asian countries. Some of these countries include China, North and South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. Those who celebrate typically consider this to be the most important and festive time of year, and it’s a special time for friends and family to reunite for feasting and festivities.
Hallmarker John O. shared, “I was born and raised in Malaysia to a second-generation Chinese immigrant family. Lunar New Year has always been the biggest celebration of the year. Extended family members would return home and gather for a big meal on the eve of Lunar New Year (just like Thanksgiving).”
There are 12 Chinese zodiac animals that rotate each year in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. In Vietnam, the ox is replaced with the water buffalo, and the rabbit with the cat. According to the lunar calendar, February 10 of 2024 will begin the Year of the Dragon.
There are different fortunes and characteristics associated with each animal. For example, people born in the Year of the Dragon are believed to be charismatic, smart, powerful and naturally lucky and gifted. They are thought to do everything to the best of their ability, and to have very high standards. You can find out what your Chinese zodiac is here!
In the past, this time of year has been widely referred to as Chinese New Year. However, it is now more widely known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year to be respectful and inclusive of other cultures who celebrate.
Preparing for the holiday
As with many important holidays, a lot of effort goes into preparing for the big day. As the previous year comes to an end, those who celebrate Lunar New Year work toward tying up loose ends and cleaning and organizing their homes so they can begin the new year with a fresh start.
“My favorite thing to do at this time of year is clean and decorate my home with my family before Tet,” says Hallmarker Lam L. “This is believed to get rid of bad luck and welcome good fortune for the new year.”
“When I was young, I would help my parents completely clean the house, paint walls and wash bedsheets and dirty clothes,” adds Hallmarker Sophia S. “I would also have purchased a new outfit to wear that I would put next to my pillow the night before the festival, and I would get dressed in my new clothes as soon as I got up on the first day of the holiday.”
Another important part of Lunar New Year celebrations is food. During this time of year, many food items have symbolic meaning:
- Oranges are often seen at banquets or given as gifts because the Cantonese word for tangerine sounds like the word for gold.
- Growing up with a Chinese-American mom, my family would eat a sweet, sticky rice pudding (gau) that symbolized families sticking together, and we would add sweetened dried fruit to our tea to symbolize the sweetness of life.
- In South Korea, a broth with sticky rice cakes sliced into small circles that look like coins, known as tteokguk, is served to represent longevity and prosperity.
- People in the Philippines may share a sticky rice cake called tikoy that represents family togetherness.
JiaoJiao S. shared that her favorite Lunar New Year memories involved her Chinese mom’s dumplings (jiaozi). “Lunar New Year was always a special day for us because my mom took the time to make jiaozi from scratch (my absolute most favorite food in the world!). We would eat a delicious meal of jiaozi and sticky rice cakes.”
Gifts of money
A very common Lunar New Year tradition is the practice of elders giving money to young people. In Chinese culture, red envelopes (hongbao in Mandarin and lai see in Cantonese) containing money are passed out.
Vietnam also has a similar red envelope tradition, with the gift symbolizing success, longevity and growth. In Korea, children will do a deep bow to wish good luck in the new year, and they are rewarded by older family members with money placed in silk bags or envelopes.
In addition to spending time with loved ones and eating delicious food, there are many other ways to celebrate this time of year:
- Going to a temple to receive blessings and to pray for a happy and successful year ahead
- Setting goals and plans for the new year (journaling is a great way to do this!)
- Decorating the house with elaborate paper cut-outs or wishes written in gold on red paper, which symbolizes good luck
- Attending local community celebrations that often include traditional foods, music, crafts and fireworks displays
- Watching lion dances, which are believed to scare away bad spirits
Hallmarker John O.’s favorite thing about Lunar New Year is the Lion Dance. “It’s a combination of martial arts and performing arts. The sound of the drums, gongs and cymbals make it the perfect Lunar New Year soundtrack to my ears.”
Lunar New Year is a time of togetherness and celebration for so many people and is full of so many beautiful traditions that ensure a wonderful start to the year ahead!
Want more ideas for celebrating? We have a couple here: