Celebrated by many Asian cultures and Asian-Americans, the Lunar New Year falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. In the United States, the Lunar New Year has been widely popularized as the Chinese New Year. The Pew Research Center explains that “Chinese Americans are the largest Asian origin group in the U.S.” Therefore, they hold a large influence on the holiday’s representation throughout the country.
In China, the Lunar New Year is known as the Spring Festival and is a public holiday where employees typically have seven days off of work to prepare for New Year festivities. Depending on the region of China, traditions for the Spring Festival differ. The origins of the Chinese New Year are steeped in legend, dating back thousands of years. One popularized story shows a creature named Nian (a name roughly translated to mean ‘Year’) who annually attacked communities the night before the new year. However, Nian was scared of the color red, so in defense, families began decorating with this color, setting out food offerings and igniting loud fireworks to startle him. This traditional story is still reflected through the color red and the fireworks used by many Chinese and Chinese-American people today.
For many people, the Chinese New Year brings a mindset of change; getting rid of the old and welcoming in the new. This manifests in a number of traditions. One example is shown in the traditional attire, decor, and gifts. It is traditional for people to wear and decorate with the color red, and family members would exchange red envelopes filled with money. The twelve Zodiac signs are another popularized part of the Chinese New Year. These signs, or animals, each represent specific years, stemming from a Chinese legend where they are thought to guard Heaven’s gate. According to Chinese tradition, a person’s character traits align with the Zodiac animal of the year they were born in. This year, 2023, is the Year of the Rabbit, associated with elegance, kindness and responsibility, among other traits.
The Chinese New Year also marks an important time for family reunions across China and in the United States. Many have a tradition of eating dumplings on the Chinese New Year because the shape is representative of ancient Chinese currency and therefore symbolizes good luck.
Superstitions also abound during this season. Cleaning, bathing and haircuts are all an important way to prepare for the new year. It is important for these tasks to be completed before the new year arrives. Otherwise, the luck and good fortune may wash away. Even simple household tasks such as sweeping or washing dishes are typically avoided on the day of the Lunar New Year in order to maintain the fresh beginning.
Over the past week, this “fresh beginning” brought by the Lunar New Year has been celebrated all over the world. In California, the bill AB 2596 was passed, making the Lunar New Year an official holiday, giving those who celebrate it a day off. This is in compliance with the Chinese tradition of taking seven days off during this season. Here at Hope, Phelps Dining Hall also recognized Lunar New Year by passing out red envelopes with chocolate coins, recognizing the traditional Chinese New Year tradition and the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit.
(Photo credit: GETTY)
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