lunar new year

Happy Lunar New Year!

This is the biggest holiday and celebration observed by many populations, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, and Macau. This year, Lunar New Year falls on Saturday, January 28, and it’s the Year of the Rooster.

Chinese New Year feast!

I wanted to take the time to detail some of the typical traditions my Chinese family and many other families go through each New Year. I’ll be using Lunar New Year and Chinese New Year interchangeably, and I’ll be abbreviating both to LNY and CNY to save time.

Each year, CNY falls on a different day from the previous year. It’s not like regular New Year where every new year starts off on January 1. That makes things complicated when folks born in January and February (CNY typically falls somewhere in these two months) ask which zodiac sign they are. For instance, if you were born on February 18, 2015, you are a Horse because in 2015, CNY fell on February 19. Therefore, anyone born on February 19 and after in 2015 is a Goat. Another example – if you were born on January 30, 2014, you are a Snake because CNY fell on January 31 in 2014. Anyone born on January 31 and after in 2014 is a Horse. Hopefully, that clears things up a bit. There are plenty of online calendars to help you determine which zodiac sign you fall under based on your birthday.

The beginning of CNY started, as most Chinese folktales and legends do, with a beast. A beast called the Nian, which is a mythical creature that lives under the sea or in the mountains, was going around eating villagers. However, an elderly man set off firecrackers and put up a lot of red papers around the village to ward off the Nian, which was afraid of the color red and loud noises. Thus, a tradition began. That’s why nowadays you’ll see lots of parades with lion dances, fireworks and firecrackers being set off, and homes and businesses decorating with red lanterns and banners.

This is a very family-centric holiday. In China, it’s considered the biggest migration of the year as everyone is traveling to make it back home to be with family. Ancestors are visited and honored too. This is actually the longest public holiday of the year. Most people get at least a week off work and students can take off for about a month.

In preparation for the New Year, families will thoroughly clean their houses, wash their laundry, throw away old clothes and buy new ones, and decorate their homes with lots of red and gold. Cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year but it’s critical to put away any cleaning supplies the first day of the New Year and to not throw anything outside the house, because that would be taking your new luck out. Most people will not clean their homes or wash their hair in the first couple of days.

Similarly, many people will get their hair cut prior to New Year’s Day but it’s considered bad luck to cut hair on the actual day because you’d be cutting away prosperity (the word for hair in Chinese is a homonym for the word for prosperity). It is also advised to settle and pay off any outstanding debts prior to New Year’s Eve.

Now onto some other traditions. First, something for the children – red envelopes! Adults will present lucky red envelopes to children to pass on luck and best wishes. These red envelopes are unfortunately not typically given to working adults, although some parents still give red envelopes to their children who are unmarried working adults. Another favorite tradition of mine is all the food eaten on CNY Eve and CNY Day. Fish is a must (again, the word for fish in Chinese is a homonym to the word for surplus). Other commonly eaten CNY foods are dumplings, rice cakes (nian gao), noodles, sweet rice balls, turnip cakes, spring rolls, and oranges and tangerines. Because this a family-centric holiday, there are often big family feasts. It’s pretty much western Thanksgiving and New Year rolled into one superholiday.

Some taboos to avoid:

  • No crying (during this time, parents are very lenient to children as they don’t want to rile them up)
  • No lending or borrowing (otherwise, you’ll suffer financial losses in the New Year)
  • No breaking objects
  • No washing hair or laundry (washing away wealth)
  • No sweeping or taking out the garbage (sweeping away wealth and luck)
  • No scissors or knives (or quarrels and disputes will occur)
  • Avoid taking medicine (or you’ll be sick all year)

I hope that gives you a quick glance into this holiday. Having grown up celebrating CNY, these are just a few of the traditions I know of and participate in but obviously since this is a holiday that many populations celebrate, so there’s a diverse range of other traditions. If you celebrate LNY and have other traditions, please share them below in the comment section! I’d love to see what other customs exist.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Year of the Rooster! 祝您鸡年大吉, 年年有余!

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