Celebrated by millions of people worldwide, Lunar New Year is considered a very important holiday in China, Vietnam, Mongolia, North and South Korea, and other parts of Asia. It is an opportunity to reunite with family and celebrate traditions dating back over 4,000 years.
The date of the Lunar New Year changes every year because it is based on the lunar calendar. The traditional lunar calendar used in Asia is based on the moon’s orbit around the earth. Lunar New Year is always celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and the years are represented by 12 zodiac animals that rotate through 12-year periods: rat, buffalo, tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal is considered to have different strengths and weaknesses that are believed to be passed on to any person born in that year.
While both Buddhism and Daoism incorporate New Year’s traditions, the Lunar New Year predates both religions. The holiday has adapted to the cultures and traditions of the countries that celebrate it.
Some of the Chinese New Year traditions, beliefs, and practices stem from folklore about a wild beast that attacked a Chinese village many years ago. This beast caused the villagers great fear, but they soon learned how to ward off the beast by using bright lights, loud noises, and bright red objects. Over time, some of these practices have evolved into lighting firecrackers, performing lion and dragon dances, and wearing new red clothes during Chinese New Year. The wild beast that haunted the villagers from long ago came to be called Nian, the current Chinese word for “year.” And so, celebrating the Chinese New Year is referred to as Guo Nian (in Mandarin), which means to “pass over Nian” or “overcome Nian.”
Symbolism plays a big role during the Lunar New Year. Certain foods represent important ideals. For example, oranges represent wealth, tangerines are given for good luck, and lotus seeds represent the hope for having sons in one’s family. Eating fish on New Year’s Eve represents having something left over for the New Year.
In China, other preparations for the Lunar New Year include cleaning one’s house to get rid of evil spirits and getting a haircut. These traditions emphasize the importance of starting the year off with a clean slate.
These traditions, which have changed over time, can be seen in Chinese neighborhoods across the United States and all over the world. The Lunar New Year is still celebrated with much pageantry, including the launching of confetti, parades, music, and lion and dragon dancing performed by people of all nationalities. Today, families have replaced the tradition of painting doors red with the hanging of red banners and scrolls of lucky sayings written in Chinese calligraphy.
The traditions among nations that celebrate Lunar New Year are fundamentally very similar, yet still have distinct aspects that correspond to the cultures in which the holiday is celebrated. Students can learn about the different folklore and beliefs associated with each of these cultural celebrations of the Lunar New Year to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the cultures that make up our great, diverse country.
Lunar New Year coincides with the first new moon of the 354-day-long lunar calendar, this year falling on February 1. Festivities vary and can be observed for multiple days, in some cases lasting 15 days until the full moon. This year marks the transition to the Year of the Tiger, part of the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac.
The holiday has numerous names across cultures, including the Spring Festival or Chūn jié (春節 / 春节) in Mandarin, Tết Nguyên Đán in Vietnamese, and Seollal (설날) in Korean. It’s a time known for fine-dressing, feasting and family.
“This is like for sure the one point in the year when we can expect everybody to show up and see each other,” says Asian American Student Union Vice President Michelle Le.
KMAN spoke with multiple residents about their perspectives on the holiday and its significance to them. AASU President Sabine Hoff says the family element is common with her experience coming from a Chinese background.
“A time to come together as a community and just enjoy each other’s presence with each other and get to enjoy a bunch of good food.”
Dr. Anan Wan is an advertising professor in K-State’s A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Originally from China, Dr. Wan says the holiday sparks memories of family-style meals with good company.
As part of the tradition, zodiac animals are cycled through every 12 years, with each year assigned a different zodiac animal that’s said to predict personalities and futures of anyone born under it. So for anyone born in the years 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 or 2022, this is your year, the Year of the Tiger. Just what might this year have in store for you and the rest of us?
The Year of the Tiger is expected to be a year of rapid changes, risks and adventures. According to Chinese astrology, those born in the Year of the Tiger are natural leaders. They’re energetic and competitive risk takers and may be seen as rebellious, short-tempered and outspoken. But they also have sensitive, generous and humorous sides to their personality.
Even though the tiger represents this year, predictions say it won’t necessarily be a good year for tigers themselves. On the downside, tigers are predicted to have bad luck in relationships. But on the bright side, they may have new learning opportunities and get promoted at work, so money and knowledge may console them during their time of loneliness.