Hopping into the year of the rabbit

Lunar New Year

While the holiday season has come and gone for the people of the United States and various other countries, China’s festivities are just getting started in regards to their Lunar New Year celebrations. 

      For civil purposes, China and other Asian countries use a Gregorian calendar like the rest of civilization, however, most holidays that are celebrated are governed by the lunisolar calendar – or lunar calendar. While the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar that states that each year has 365 days divided into 12 months, the lunisolar calendar is derived from the phases of the Moon and the longitude of the Sun. 

   This year happens to be the year of the rabbit according to the lunar calendar and the 12-year cycle of the Chinese animal zodiac. Each of the 12 years in the cycle has a respective animal that pairs with it. The 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac are [in order]: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat/sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. 

“The 12 Chinese zodiac animals in a cycle are not only used to represent years in China, but also believed to influence people’s personalities, career, compatibility, marriage, and fortune [depending on the year you were born],”  the Travel China Guide website described.    Most Asian countries celebrate Lunar New Year, which is a general term that encompasses all festivities that take place as governed by the lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is a more specific term that hones in on Chinese celebrations and traditions specifically, as opposed to the other Asian countries that also celebrate the new year according to the lunar calendar. China and Hong Kong celebrate their festivities under the title of Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival). Countries like Vietnam, North Korea, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia all celebrate under the Lunar New Year title. Celebrations for the holiday in each of these countries can look different due to each country’s own cultural, spiritual, and traditional beliefs.  

   Depending on what area of Asia, an individual may be – China or another part of Asia – the new year’s festivities are referred to differently. 

“In contexts outside of China, referring to Lunar New Year as “Chinese New Year” and vice versa can come off as insensitive and offensive because it ignores other regional cultures, all of which have their own unique traditions, beliefs, and celebrations,” the Chinese Highlights website disclosed. 

   Due to Lunar New Year celebrations being dictated by the lunisolar calendar, the beginning and end of the festivities vary from year to year. This year, the celebrations commenced on January 22, 2023, and will conclude on February 5, 2023. 

   Over the course of this 15 day period, the people of China and Asia conduct their celebrations in numerous different ways. However, many of the traditions and activities that are practiced in these countries can all be traced back to one origin story. 

   As expected, the Lunar New Year origins date back thousands of years. Much of the origin story is derived from the work of a specific legend about an evil, hideous beast named Nian. Over the years the legend has been warped to fit the beliefs of different Asian cultures, but the main premise remains. 

   Nian was a massive, wicked monster with razor-sharp teeth, knife-like claws, and a passion for ill-intent. Once a year – on new year’s day – Nian would awake from his slumber to terrorize the people of a quiet village nearby. An old beggar who lived near the village heard of their peril and offered his wise advice. The beggar advised the people of the village that Nian had three fears: loud noises, fire, and most importantly, the color red. The people of the village took this advice and embellished their homes with red paper and tapestries, and they dressed themselves in red from head to toe. On the night that Nian arrived to torment the village, the people were able to fight him off with loud drums and bright firecrackers. Nian was so frightened that he never showed his face in the village again. Ever since this successful night, the people realized that there was no need to hide in fear for new years day any longer, and they turned their fright into celebration. 

   Using this legend as the root of the Lunar New Year celebration led to many of the countless traditions that are practiced throughout Asia each year on New Year’s Day. Red is seen as a color that promotes good luck, hope, and prosperity; because of this, decorations and people of all ages display this color on New Year’s Day to ring in the new year. Children and unmarried adults are often gifted red envelopes by parents and relatives containing an amount of money inside to signify well wishes and good fortune for the year to come. Fireworks and firecrackers are lit constantly during the 15 day celebration, and streets are closed down to welcome extravagant parade floats and energetic dragon dancers. Furthermore, perhaps the most important part of the Lunar New Year festivities, a large feast is often prepared and shared amongst close family and distant relatives. During the 15 day celebration, families from all across Asia come together to reunite and commune with each other. They enjoy copious amounts of food, reflect on the previous year, and express their excitement and hopes for the future. On the last day of the Lunar New Year festivities, a Lantern Festival is held. Thousands of red lanterns fill the skies and people gaze up to look at these floating symbols of peace, welfare, and new beginnings. 

   Contrary to some of the common traditions that China practices for Lunar New Year, other countries put their own cultural spin on the activities that they participate in. For example, in Vietnam, Lunar New Year is referred to as “Tết” or Vietnamese New Year. 

“Vietnamese people have their own traditional cake (bánh chưng) and they decorate their houses with hoađào (peach blossom trees) or hoamai (yellow Mai flower, a type of tree with yellow flowers),” the China Highlights website says. 

The Vietnamese animal zodiac signs also differ slightly from those of the Chinese zodiac as well. As opposed to a rabbit and an ox, the Vietnamese zodiac showcases a cat and a buffalo respectively. 

   Similar to China, South Korean families celebrate Lunar New Year together over a large feast. “The holiday is called Seollal, and Tteokguk (a rice cake soup) is served as a special treat for the holiday because the rice cakes resemble coins. South Koreans hang beautiful scrolls filled with blessings on their doors, and they pay homage to their ancestors as well.”Fordor’s Travel website reports. 

   Regardless of how each country celebrates this magical holiday, many who take part in the festivities agree that the Lunar New Year is a special time to commemorate the year that has passed and toast the year to come. It is a time for families to reunite and for hope, prosperity, good fortune, and love to flourish. 

For more information on the origin behind the 12 Chinese animal zodiac signs and what they signify, please visit https://chinesenewyear.net/zodiac/.