Lunar New Year: 5 Things to Know About the Holiday (2023)

Every year, some time between late January and early February, an estimated 2 billion people across the globe, many of them in East and Southeast Asia, celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Millennia of agricultural tradition in ancient China, with farmers looking to the moon as a guide for when to sow and harvest crops, led to celebrations of the Lunar New Year. The holiday falls on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice, marking the start of a new annual cycle based on the lunisolar calendar, and a way to welcome the beginning of spring. This year, Lunar New Year falls on Jan. 22.

The Lunar New Year is a public holiday that is observed across multiple days in China, North and South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Vietnam. Filial ties typically take center stage during this time as people return to their hometowns to observe the holiday with their families.

Here are five things to know about how different cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The holiday generally involves travel to reunite with family

In China, the Spring Festival or chūnjié is the country’s biggest festival.

Every year, until the pandemic began, hundreds of millions of Chinese, including expats from overseas, return to their hometowns to celebrate the festival with their families. The migration is significant enough to clog transport terminals and to warrant its own moniker, chūnyun (literally “spring migration”), which lasts for 40 days.

With China recently easing its strict “zero-COVID” measures, it expects during the festive period this year more than 2 billion domestic trips, which amounts to only about 70% of pre-pandemic levels.

(Video) Everything You Need To Know About Chinese New Year

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For Koreans, Seollal (“New Year”) is a three-day public holiday that spans the day before, the day of, and the day after the Lunar New Year. During this time, celebrants typically return to their hometowns to visit family. Some Koreans may also choose to wear a traditional costume called hanbok and play traditional games such as yutnori.

Lunar New Year: 5 Things to Know About the Holiday (1)

A shopkeeper at a stall that is selling cat images ahead of the Lunar New Year at a market in the old quarters of Hanoi, Jan. 17, 2023. As China gears up to welcome the Year of the Rabbit, celebrations are slightly different in Vietnam, where the Year of the Cat is about to begin.

Nhac Nguyen—AFP via Getty Images

It’s the Year of the Rabbit—except in Vietnam

According to the lunar calendar, Jan. 22 this year ushers in the Year of the Rabbit. There are 12 zodiac animals, each assigned a year, on a rotating basis.

(Video) How we got our Holidays: Lunar New Year 2023

The order of the rotation is based on the tale of a “Great Race” of animals staged by the Jade Emperor—a revered god in Chinese mythology. According to the legend, the animals crossed a rapidly-flowing river to get to the finish line in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

This year represents the Year of the Rabbit. Those born in 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, and so on (every 12 years) were also born in Years of the Rabbit. Different personality traits and annual fortunes are ascribed to people born in each Zodiac year. People born in the Year of the Rabbit are generally thought to be gentle, quick-witted, and easygoing, though they also are said to be hesitant and timid. Traditional practices like feng shui, the Chinese philosophy of managing the flow of energy in the home, are also often aligned with the Zodiac year.

The zodiac animals are a little different, however, in Vietnam: the ox is replaced with the water buffalo, and the rabbit with the cat. Based on the original tale, the cat isn’t part of the Chinese zodiac because the rat had failed to inform the cat about the race after promising to do so. No one is sure how the cat appeared in Vietnam’s zodiac, but there is speculation that ancient local words for rabbit and cat sounded similar.

So this year, when people in Vietnam celebrate the New Year or Tết Nguyên Đán, they will be ushering in the Year of the Cat, not the Rabbit.

Food plays a special role during the Lunar New Year

During the Lunar New Year, many food items are symbolic for luck and prosperity.

Several Chinese dishes are served because of how they sound—thanks to the country’s homophonic languages. For example, fish is a requirement at the Lunar New Year dinner table because in Mandarin Chinese, the word for fish (), sounds like the word for “surplus” (yú). Similarly, oranges are also a holiday staple because the Cantonese word for tangerine (gam) sounds like the word for ‘gold’ (gam).

Across many cultures, sticky rice items are considered auspicious and some are emblematic of togetherness. Vietnam’s bánh chưng is a rice cake wrapped and twined in banana leaf that is traditionally prepared together as a family. People in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation with a significant Chinese population, may share tikoy, a sticky rice cake of Fujianese origin often fried in an egg batter; the stickiness also represents close filial relations. In South Korea, tteokguk, a broth with sticky rice cakes sliced into small circles, is served to represent longevity and prosperity—because the rice cakes look like coins.

During Mongolia’s Lunar New Year, which is called Tsagaan Sar and falls on Jan. 21, one of the dishes served, tsagaalga, is a mixture of curd, rice, and raisin. Dairy is also used in many local dishes for the symbolism of its white color: to purify what’s dark, as the moon does in the night.

Lunar New Year: 5 Things to Know About the Holiday (2)

Students put red envelopes containing money, known locally as "ang pao," into the mouth of the "barongsai," or lion dance, during Lunar New Year celebrations at a school in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, Jan. 19, 2023.

Agoes Rudianto—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

(Video) How Do You Celebrate Chinese New Year? | Holiday Traditions

Elders customarily give money to young people

Lunar New Year is also often associated with giving out money.

In Chinese culture, red packets (called hongbao in Mandarin and lai see in Cantonese) containing lucky money are given out by parents to their children and elders. In the workplace, the company and upper management may give red packets to their employees.

In Vietnam, the gifted money called tiền mừng tuổi is also placed inside red envelopes to wish people success, longevity, and growth. Originally, elders give these to children, but nowadays Vietnamese people can give it to anyone regardless of age.

For Koreans, older family members will give children who do their sebae, a traditional deep bow to wish good luck in the new year, New Year’s money called sebaet don, which are given out in traditional silk bags or envelopes.

(Video) How Is Chinese New Year Celebrated?

Japan has a different way of observing the Lunar New Year

Unlike China and many other countries in Asia, Japan as a society broadly doesn’t celebrate the Lunar New Year—although that wasn’t always the case.

Shortly after the Meiji restoration of 1868, which signaled a major political transformation in Japan, the country adopted the 365-day, January-to-December Gregorian calendar, placing the civil and cultural Japanese New Year on Jan. 1.

But locals in the country’s major Chinatowns, like in Yokohama, Nagasaki, and Kobe still celebrate it, though on a much smaller scale. In Okinawa, residents refer to the holiday as Soguwachi, and families pray and offer seasonal food to Buddha. Although Japan officially adopted the Gregorian calendar, it still observes the Chinese zodiac calendar.

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(Video) Fortune Tales | The Story of Lunar New Year


What are 5 facts about Chinese New Year? ›

Top 10 Facts About Chinese New Year!
  • Chinese New Year falls on a different day each year. ...
  • It is also known as 'Spring Festival'. ...
  • In China, each year is linked with a different animal. ...
  • The celebrations last for 15 days. ...
  • Guo Nian Hao means Happy New Year! ...
  • Children receive red envelopes with money inside.
6 days ago

What should I know about Lunar New Year? ›

Lunar New Year is a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. It is the most important holiday in China, and it is also widely celebrated in South Korea, Vietnam, and countries with a significant overseas Chinese population.

What is the most important thing to do on Chinese New Year's day? ›

Shopping is the most important activity on this day. People will purchase fireworks, couplets, toys and so on. They also buy new clothes for the next year. In the folk custom, people will also have baths and wash all the clothes in the hope, of removing the bad luck from the previous year.

What are five lucky foods for Chinese New Year? ›

8 Lucky Foods to Ring in the Chinese New Year
  • Jiaozi (Dumplings)
  • Dayu Darou (Whole Fish or Meat)
  • Lawei (Cured Meats)
  • Chun Juan (Spring Rolls)
  • Changshou Mian (Longevity Noodles)
  • Good Fortune Fruit.
  • Babao Fan (Eight Treasures Rice)
  • Tang Yuan (Glutinous-Rice Balls in Sweet Syrup)

What do people eat for Chinese New Year? ›

The most common Chinese New Year foods include dumplings, fish, spring rolls, and niangao. We've rounded up 7 essential Chinese, or Lunar, New Year dishes, and included the symbolism behind them all.

What are 4 Interesting facts about Lunar New Year? ›

5 Interesting Facts About Lunar New Year
  • A Fifth of the World Population Celebrates Lunar New Year. ...
  • Each year is represented by one of the 12 animals. ...
  • Money are given as gifts. ...
  • Celebration continues by praying. ...
  • A time for family gathering. ...
  • 8 Folding Screen Expressing Parental Affinity & Brotherly love.

Why is Lunar New Year so important? ›

The Lunar New Year is the most important social and economic holiday for billions of people around the world. The holiday is tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar and was originally observed as a time to honor household and heavenly deities and ancestors.

Do you eat meat on Lunar New Year? ›

Don't eat meat on the first and 15th day of the new year, go vegetarian. (This is to ensure a long and happy life). On the 15th day is the first full moon of the lunar new year.

What are the five Chinese blessings? ›

Chinese culture: five blessings, also known as the "Five Happiness" or "Five Good Fortunes", which refer to longevity, wealth, health and composure, love of virtue, and the desire to die a natural death in old age (or timely death).

What is not allowed on Chinese New Year? ›

There are many taboos on this day. No washing clothes or hair or bathing. The first and second day of the lunar year is the birthday of the “Water God”, so you are not supposed to use water to show respect for the Water God. No sweeping the floor or taking out rubbish.

What is the most important tradition for Chinese New Year? ›

The Chinese New Year's Eve meal is the most important dinner of the year. Typically, families gather at a designated relative's house for dinner, but these days, many families often celebrate New Year's Eve dinner at a restaurant.

What is the most important part of the Chinese New Year celebration? ›

The most important part of the Chinese New Year celebration is the 'Reunion Dinner' on Chinese New Year's Eve when the extended family would join around the table for a meal that included many lucky foods such as fish and dumpling.

What are the three most important Chinese holidays? ›

China National Day, Spring Festival and Labor Day holidays are three 'golden weeks' in China. They are the three longest holidays in China: 7 days off each for China National Day and the Spring Festival, and 5 days for Labor Day.

What fruit is good luck? ›

Oranges, kumquats, tangerines and pomelos are common Chinese New Year food gifts because they're believed to bring good luck and happiness. The Chinese words for orange and tangerine closely resemble the words for luck and wealth.

What is the luckiest food? ›

8 New Year's Foods to Bring Good Luck in 2023
  • of 8. Greens. The color green symbolizes luck — think about four-leaf clovers, dollar bills, and jade jewelry. ...
  • of 8. Noodles. ...
  • of 8. Cabbage. ...
  • of 8. Pork. ...
  • of 8. Fish. ...
  • of 8. Lentils. ...
  • of 8. Pomegranate. ...
  • of 8.
Dec 29, 2022

What foods bring good luck? ›

Today we'll take a look at popular food items revered for bringing good fortune to those who consume them.
  • Pork. Succulent, rich, and fatty, pork symbolizes wealth and prosperity. ...
  • Fish. Scales represent coins, and so fish is deemed a culinary item of good fortune. ...
  • Beans. ...
  • Greens. ...
  • Corn bread. ...
  • Grapes. ...
  • Pomegranate. ...
  • Noodles.

What are the 7 Lucky New Year's food traditions? ›

7 Lucky New Year's Traditions
  • Grapes // Spain.
  • Black-Eyed Peas // Southern United States.
  • Soba Noodles // Japan.
  • Pomegranate // Eastern Europe.
  • Lentils // Europe & South America.
  • Marzipan Pigs // Germany & Scandinavia.
  • Pickled Herring // Poland, Scandinavia.

Can you cut hair during Chinese New Year? ›

Leave your hair as it is on the first day of the New Year. The Chinese character for hair is the same first character in the word for prosper. This means washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away and dramatically reduces chances of prosperity in the year ahead.

What is Chinese New Year dinner called? ›

The reunion dinner, also known as Tuan Nian or Wei Lu, marks a family gathering on the Lunar New Year's Eve and the Chinese consider it to be the most important part of the celebration.

How is lunar year celebrated? ›

Lunar new year is the grandest ancient traditional festival in China, commonly known as "Guo Nian". This festival means the beginning of spring and the arrival of the new year. The customs of Chinese lunar new year include sticking Spring Festival couplets, buying New Year's goods, and having family dinner together.

Why is it called Lunar New Year? ›

It's called the Lunar New Year because it marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendars traditional to many east Asian countries including China, South Korea, and Vietnam, which are regulated by the cycles of the moon and sun.

Is Lunar New Year a culture? ›

Lunar New Year is traditionally celebrated in Asian countries especially in China and others influenced by Chinese culture like Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Philippines, and Indonesia. It is also celebrated where Chinese communities and those countries' overseas communities can be found.

What colors to wear for Lunar New Year? ›

The 10 Lucky Lunar New Year Colors and Their Meaning
  • Red. Red is believed to bring good luck and is often associated with happiness, prosperity, and good fortune. ...
  • Gold. This is another lucky Chinese New Year color believed to bring wealth, prosperity, and success. ...
  • Yellow. ...
  • Green. ...
  • Purple. ...
  • Pink. ...
  • Orange. ...
  • White.
Jan 10, 2023

Why do people clean before Lunar New Year? ›

It is traditional for families to clean their houses and the areas surrounding before the start of the new year. The word 'dust' in Chinese is a homophone for 'old', thus cleaning the house is symbolic of driving away the bad luck of the previous year to allow for a new start.

What happens if you cry on Chinese New Year? ›

Crying: It is believed that the cry of children forebodes disease and misfortune, which may bring bad luck to the whole family. Therefore, to avoid children's crying during the festival, parents should not punish their kids, even if they make mistakes or are naughty.

Do you give gifts during Lunar New Year? ›

Importance of Giving Lunar New Year Gifts

Gift-giving is an important tradition in Chinese culture. It's a way of showing appreciation and respect for the receiver, while also bringing luck to both the giver and receiver. Gifts symbolize wishes for prosperity and good fortune in the New Year.

Can I cut my nails on Chinese New Year? ›

Do not wash your hair, cut your nails, use the scissors or sweep the floor on the first day of Chinese New Year.

What is a fact about Chinese New Year 2022? ›

Chinese give money and gifts in sets of 8

You'll have extra luck for the new year if you give money and gifts in sets of 8. Over Chinese New Year, it's quite lucky to give money in sums of 88 or 888 RMB. If you give fruits or other gifts to relatives, make sure to give them in sets of 8!

What is Chinese New Year kids facts? ›

It is a 15-day festival. The holiday begins with the new moon that occurs some time between January 21 and February 20 according to Western calendars. Festivities last until the full moon. Since the mid-1990s people in China have been given seven consecutive days off work during the Chinese New Year.

How old is Chinese New Year? ›

Chinese New Year has a history of about 3,500 years. Its exact beginning date is not recorded. Some people believe that Chinese New Year originated in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC), when people held sacrificial ceremonies in honor of gods and ancestors at the beginning or the end of each year.

Why is it called Chinese New Year? ›

The name 'Chinese New Year' likely originated from Western countries wanting to differentiate what the Chinese celebrate as New Year with their own. And the Chinese, being the biggest, and most widespread, ethnic group in the world, tend to be overrepresented among Asians.

What are 4 symbols that represent Chinese New Year? ›

  • Lunar New Year Symbols. Red symbolizes joy, virtue, and sincerity which is why it is often the predominant color in many Chinese celebrations including the New Year one. ...
  • Red Envelops. ...
  • Zodiac Animals. ...
  • Fish. ...
  • Fireworks and Firecrackers. ...
  • Lantern. ...
  • Spring Couplet. ...
  • Fruit Blossoms.
Jan 18, 2022

Can we cut hair during Chinese New Year? ›

Leave your hair as it is on the first day of the New Year. The Chinese character for hair is the same first character in the word for prosper. This means washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away and dramatically reduces chances of prosperity in the year ahead.

Why is Chinese New Year important? ›

The New Year celebration is centred around removing the bad and the old, and welcoming the new and the good. It's a time to worship ancestors, exorcise evil spirits and pray for good harvest. Today it's celebrated also by Chinese communities outside the country.

What are the 12 symbols of the Chinese New Year? ›

There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs, in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each sign is named after an animal, and each animal has its own unique characteristics. Do you know why the 12 Chinese zodiac animals are in the sequence above?

What is the Chinese New Year called? ›

Lunar New Year, often called the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, is the most important holiday in China and Chinese communities around the world.

Why is Chinese New Year 15 days? ›

Chinese New Year starts with the New moon on the first day of the first lunar month and ends on the Full moon 15 days later.

Is Chinese a birthday? ›

Chinese age is calculated differently

While for most people around the world, age at birth is calculated at zero, for the Chinese, being born means automatically turning one. Additionally, another year is added to a Chinese person's age on his or her first Lunar New Year's Day.

How old is my Chinese zodiac? ›

The Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals that first appeared in the Zhan Guo period [5th century B.C.]. No one knows the exact date as of when the zodiac was essentially created, but they were officially identified during the Han Dynasty [206 B.C.–9 A.D.], which was over 2000 years ago.

Who invented the Lunar New Year? ›

In 104 BCE Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE) approved a calendar reform that fixed the beginning of the year on the day of the first new moon after the sun enters the 11th sign of the solar zodiac, or the second new moon after the winter solstice.


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