A guide to the Lunar New Year


"Macau | Lunar New Year 2014 Dragon Dance" by travel oriented is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Each Lunar New Year, Macou, China, celebrates with a Dragon Dance at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf. Dragon Dances are common in celebrations since Chinese dragons are a symbol of the country’s culture and are seen to bring good luck to the audience as they dance.

Three students tell how their families celebrate the holiday to honor its cultural significance. (Elizabeth Trevathan)

Rituals, food, and dozens of other traditions commenced on Jan. 28 to ensure a lucky year ahead for those celebrating the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year, is a celebration that lasts over two weeks and marks the beginning of the new year as dated on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Lunisolar calendars use the moon phase and the position of the sun to calculate the date. The official date of the new year is Feb. 1, but festivities begin on the 26th day of the last lunar month, Jan. 28, and continue through Feb. 15.

Celebrations begin with festive cakes and pudding. These desserts are called “gao” in Mandarin, similar to the word for tall since it’s believed that they will lead to growth in the new year. Here is a recipe for a popular turnip cake often made for the Lunar New Year.

Then on Jan. 30, the 28th day of the last lunar month, people clean their homes to remove any bad luck. A family reunion dinner is often held on Lunar New Year’s Eve, and foods culturally associated with luck are served. Some lucky foods include fish, puddings, and foods like dumplings that look like gold blocks.
Feb. 1 through Feb. 11 is the Spring Festival and the first seven days are a public holiday in Asian countries.

On the third day of the first lunar month, people visit temples and avoid social events. The day is called “chi kou,” red mouth, and it’s believed that arguments are more likely to happen on this day, prompting the avoidance of social interactions.

The seventh day is called “renri,” or the people’s birthday since it’s the day that the Chinese mother goddess, Nuwa, created people. Birthday foods are served. People in Malaysia commonly eat “yeesang,” a mix of raw fish and vegetables. Cantonese people commonly eat sweet rice balls.

Preparations for the final festival begin on Feb. 12, and lantern festivals are held on the 15th day of the first lunar month which is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Other traditions and superstitions include not washing or cutting your hair on the first day of the new year since it’s seen as washing your fortune away. People avoid buying shoes in the first month since the word for shoes sounds like losing in Cantonese. As a part of the observance, people wear red since it’s associated with luck and prosperity. Snacks and candy are shared and married couples give red packets of money to children and unmarried adults.

This coming year is the year of the Water Tiger, but according to geomancy experts, wood and fire elements will be more important than water in the next year. Each person is affected differently by the year, depending on their birth chart and Chinese zodiac sign. Learn more about Chinese Zodiac Signs and find out what yours is here.

Currently, the Lunar New Year is not a federal holiday in the United States, even though more than 1.5 billion people celebrate it in the U.S. Rep. Meng, Grace [D-NY-6] introduced a bill on Jan. 28 to make Feb. 1 a federal holiday.

The Lunar New Year is a culturally important and beautiful holiday for many Asian countries and the Asian diaspora. It’s a time to celebrate cultural and spiritual beliefs, honor ancestors, and bring good luck to the upcoming year.

The featured image for this article can be found at Macau | Lunar New Year 2014 Dragon Dance