The Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, is China’s most important holiday, but it is also celebrated in other East Asian countries and in places where natives of those countries and their families reside. In fact, a quarter of the world’s population celebrates the holiday.
The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on the first new moon of the lunar calendar, and ends 15 days later, during the first full moon. The dates of other nations’ Lunar New Year celebrations often align with China’s because the participating countries read the lunar calendar in the same way.
While the Asian nations that celebrate the Lunar New Year share certain key traditions, they also follow others that are uniquely their own. Common rituals include shopping for and wearing new red clothes; cleaning the home to clear away traces of bad luck; decorating the home with special objects; gathering family far and wide for a grand Reunion Dinner at which special celebratory dishes are served; presenting money in red envelopes to children; and staging spectacular festivals with fireworks displays, lantern shows, singing and lion dances.
The color red that appears everywhere during the Lunar New Year period—in clothing, money envelopes, home decorations and event spectacles—is intended to banish evil spirits and bring good luck.
Lunar New Year in China
The 2019 Chinese Lunar New Year takes place on Tuesday, February 5th, which marks the end of the Year of the Dog and the first day of the Year of the Pig. In the Chinese Zodiac, each year is represented by one of 12 different animals – the pig symbolizes diligence, compassion and generosity.
The Chinese typically begin preparing for the holiday about a month ahead of time with purchases of presents, decorations, food and clothing. Among the unique customs they practice that are designed to bring good luck in the coming year: applying a fresh coat of red paint to window frames and doors.
Celebrants mark Lunar New Year eve by putting up paper posters on their front doors that honor “door gods,” the stove god and the animal symbol of the new year and feature lucky slogans such as “springtime” or “good fortune arrives.” The Chinese Reunion Dinner incorporates at least 10 courses, including a whole fish that symbolizes abundance in the year ahead and other foods that connote good luck, such as noodles for long life and sweet rice cakes for a rich, sweet life.
After dinner, the family plays cards and board games and watches TV shows focused on the occasion.
On the actual Lunar New Year day, after handing out the money-filled Red Packets, family members go door to door to offer greetings and blessings to relatives and neighbors. The Festival of Lanterns marks the end of the New Year.
Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnam
Tet Nguyen Dan means “feast of the first morning.” Tet is the most significant holiday and festival in Vietnam and extends from the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar through the third day.
Tet in the three Vietnamese regions is divided into three periods: Tất Niên (Before New Year’s Eve when preparations take place), Giao Thừa (New Year’s Eve—the eve of Tet) and Tân Niên (the New Year—the day of Tet as well the following days).
One distinctive Tet tradition intended to get the year ahead off to a good start: Paying off all debts.
Indoor and outdoor home decorations for Tet include peach, kumquat and orange trees, as well as planted and potted flowers, such as chrysanthemums and orchids.
New offerings are placed on the freshly cleaned in-home family altar (which typically features five fruits) and the family engages in a modest ceremony involving offerings for the home’s three kitchen guardians.
Among the special holiday dishes that each Vietnamese family prepares during the period leading up to Tet, is Mut—candied fruits that are packaged in beautiful boxes and placed on the living room table for house guests to enjoy.
On the first day of Tet, the children recite a variety of traditional Tet greetings to their elders to wish them good fortune before receiving their ‘lucky’ money. And on the following days, people visit local Buddhist temples to donate money and get their fortunes told in addition to seeing friends and relatives.
Seollal in Korea
Korea’s New Year is three days long, beginning the day before the first day of the Korean lunar calendar and ending the day after. Traditionally, families gather from all over Korea at the house of their oldest male relative to pay their respects to both ancestors and elders.
For the highly structured ritual of ancestor reverence known as “charye,” women prepare the food, male relatives serve it to ancestors and both genders consume it. Though the foods prepared for the ceremony vary from region to region, the most common items are rice, soup, meat, seafood, liquor, fruit, vegetables.
While the ritual of ancestor worship is the centerpiece of the holiday, Korean celebrations also include dressing in traditional garb and playing folk games like GoStop, which uses Hwatu playing cards decorated with painted floral images.
Losar Festival Celebrated by Tibetan People
Losar celebrations last three days and are characterized by home-based practices as well as public events featuring chanting, the passing of fire torches through crowds, dancing and music.
On Day 1, among the special foods people in Tibet prepare for the New Year is a soup filled with dumplings. Monasteries conduct special rituals in preparation for Losar celebrations and make a noodle called guthuk made of nine ingredients, including dried cheese and a variety of grains.
People also make and hand out dough balls filled with ingredients intended to comment lightheartedly on the recipients’ characters.
In addition to practicing classic traditions at home, Tibetans engage in religious ceremonies on Day 2. People head out to local monasteries to worship, give gifts to the monks and set off firecrackers thought to chase away evil spirits.
On Day 3, the actual New Year’s Day, Tibetans housewives cook a pot of barley wine for the family before sunrise, then head to a nearby river or well to get the year’s first bucket of water—viewed as the most sacred and clear of the year ahead.
The Lunar New Year in Singapore
Weeks before the start of Chinese New Year, Singapore’s Chinatown stages the Street Light Up during which the streets are lined with captivating lanterns. Colorful processions, seasonal markets and energetic lion dances infuse the island with a festive mood. People everywhere meet up to exchange mandarin oranges for good luck and to eat special dishes.
The color red appears everywhere–including in front of the homes in lanterns hanging by the gates, spring couplets adorning doorways and ribbons decorating kumquat plants.
Lunar New Year at Macy’s
As millions of people all over the world celebrate the Lunar New Year, Macy’s marks the occasion with special events filled with performances and giveaways, special merchandise and gift cards.