Blog: 5 Things to Know About Lunar (Chinese) New Year

Traditional show of Nian during the Lunar New Year

What do red hues, street decorations, red envelopes, festivities, and January 25, 2020, all have in common? The Lunar New Year is here! Coastline College, along with many others communities, kicked off the Lunar New Year celebration on January 25th.

Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival and Chinese New Year, is a significant part of Chinese culture and tradition. Today, the marking of this passage celebration is not only enjoyed in China, but it is also incorporated on a global scale throughout many communities. The Lunar New Year has been frequently called the most important holiday of the year.

Today’s traditions are a continuation on ancient custom of New Year celebrations dating back centuries. “Through centuries of China’s agrarian tradition, [New Year’s Day] was the one period when farmers could rest from their work in the fields,” the East Asia Institute at Columbia University’s guide to the holiday explains. As a result, today, families worldwide take this opportunity today to gather and celebrate among loved ones.

Traditions vary

Street decorations on Lunar New Year

Although traditions may vary from region to region, preparations for New Year festivities begin well in advance to the holiday. During our research, we found that participants start the annual preparations as early as late January. Today, all over China, celebrations include the tradition of dressing in a Tang Suit, decorating their homes, street decorations with symbols of well wishes and luck. Street decorations frequently exhibit the color red, painting, lanterns, and more (East Asia Institute, 2009). As the holiday approaches, many will exercise the tradition of tying loose ends they’ve experienced the last Lunar Year, so they can begin with a fresh slate in the New Lunar Year (Zuckerman, 2016).

Coastline College celebrated the Lunar New Year on February 5, 2019. Dr. Lori Adrian joins in the celebration along with the Financial Aid, EOP&S, and Administrative Services at Coastline.

Fun Fact

The Lunar New Year will be celebrated by more than 20% of the world. It is commonly referred to the largest annual human migration across the globe. According to a recent Bloomberg News, Chinese citizens will make up about 3 billion trips the 2019 Spring festival season.

Crowd for 2019 Lunar New Year celebration. Many travel far and wide to celebrate with relatives.

In the spirit of the New Year, here are 5 interesting facts that you probably didn’t know about the Lunar New Year:

1. Fireworks

You’ve probably seen the monster during your local Lunar New Year celebrations with a lion body and head of a dragon – but do you know the correlation between the monster and fireworks? There is a myth that surrounds this mythical monster, Nian, and a young boy with firecrackers. According to legend, the monster Nian would terrorize the village people every New Year’s Eve – however on one specific New Year’s Eve, a brave boy prepared to fight off this monster with firecrackers (Wang, 2016). The tale goes that the people celebrated the next day by setting off firecrackers and it has become a tradition ever since then.

In modern celebrations, some even call fireworks a crucial part of the Spring Festival.

Traditionally, the firecrackers are set off at midnight and are also used to welcome the New Year. It is the most fireworks set off in the whole year and was temporarily banned due to safety concerns, but lifted in 2006 in Beijing.

2. Red Envelopes (红包 – hóngbāo) may have started during the Han Dynasty.

This tradition of receiving a red envelope is commonly dated back as a tradition during the Han Dynasty (approx. 220 BCE). Originally, rather the current practice of filling an envelope with money, the community would gift coins to ward off evil spirits. Engraved onto the surface of these small collectibles were phrases such as worldwide peace, longevity, and fortune or had dragons and phoenixes.

Red envelopes can be enjoyed by all, even children.
From children to elders, this tradition of giving a red envelope is to demonstrate gratitude.

Ideally, these red envelopes are gifted to children from elders hoping to pass on a year of good fortune and blessings. As the tradition has been passed on, various versions of these traditions arose including the younger generations to elders as a show of gratitude and blessing of longevity. It is also commonly used for married couples gifting to unmarried couples hoping to transfer some luck.

3. Food, food, and food!

Dumpling sales spike during Lunar New Year yearly.

Did you know dumplings are supposed to be served for every meal every day during the holiday? However, this isn’t widely practiced as it was in the past. Today, most either eat it for breakfast or dinner. This is more popular in the North, while the South, typically, will eat spring rolls and tangyuan (balls of rice in soup). According to a USDA report, the dumplings demand is so high; sales have risen phenomenally in the few days following the Lantern Festival (15th day of Spring Festival). A neighborhood store reported to be selling 100 tons of dumpling within 4 days – talk about supply and demand.

Tanguyan enjoyed as a dessert

Another food fact is that many new year desserts have special meanings which mostly comprise of puns such as tangyuan – it literally means soup balls and it sounds like tuanyuan, which mean reunion. Additionally, there is a type of rice cake called Nian Gao and it symbolizes success each and every year.

4. It is the longest Chinese holiday (literally)

Lunar New Year is celebrated for 15 consecutive days (moon). It does not have an annual official start date as it is based on the cycles of the moon or the lunar calendar, but it usually occurs between late January to February. According to the Library of Congress, the Spring Festival is the only traditional Chinese festival that has been publicly observed by the People’s Republic of China since its first decree.

Woman admiring Spring Festival decorations

5. Year of the Pig

2019 is the year of the pig, which is being associated with having a beautiful personality and are blessed with good fortune and wealth. In Chinese tradition, there are twelve zodiac animals. According to a myth, the zodiac animals are in order in which they arrived at the Jade emperor’s party with the pig being late, as he overslept. Another story is a wolf destroys his house… sound familiar?

So, what can those born in the year pig expect for 2019? Similar to last year, Pigs may find luck in some areas of their life but are required to work hard to avoid potential pitfalls. There will be up and downs with feelings of frustrations and sadness but overall if Pigs stick it out the following year will bear good fruits from their labor.

For those celebrating: Coastline College sends warm wishes on this action-packed holiday. We hope there is luck, prosperity, and joyful memories in your near future.

Step to the side Dog, it’s the year of the Pig!

This blog was updated on January 23, 2020

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