Lunar New Year: Hopping into a new celebration

Dylan Bago, News Writer

Americans typically use the solar Gregorian Calendar, celebrating New Year’s on January 1, with parades and other traditional festivities like fireworks. In Asia, however, several countries use a lunar or lunisolar calendar, beginning New Year celebrations with the first new moon of their calendars and ending fifteen days later on the first full moon.

Unlike solar calendars, however, lunar calendars are based on moon cycles, so their dates can shift from Jan. 21 to Feb. 20, according to the Gregorian Calendar. 

This year, Lunar New Year began on Sunday, Jan. 22, and ended on Sunday, Feb. 5, marking a new year of the Chinese Zodiac, the year of the Water Rabbit. According to ancient Chinese folklore, twelve zodiac signs are associated with the new year, consisting of animals like the rabbit, dragon, pig, dog, and others.

Furthermore, each zodiac is given a specific element from the main five: wood, water, metal, earth, and fire. They combine the element and zodiac cycle to form a sixty-year cycle, with the next year of the Water Rabbit beginning in 2083. While the Chinese zodiac may be the most well known, other Asian countries tend to have slight differences, swapping out animals and elements.

When it comes to celebrating Lunar New Year, cultures and traditions differ starkly. In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Jenny Leung, executive director of the San Francisco Chinese Culture Center, shared some important cultural differences.

“Many cultures hold ancestor worship ceremonies, with different rituals such as visiting and sweeping ancestors’ graves and preparing food for them,” Leung said. “Folk arts and performances like dragon and lion dances, Chinese opera, and martial arts are commonly seen during Lunar New Year.”

However, one similarity is that many Asian cultures celebrate with monetary gifts handed out in red envelopes, as red symbolizes a lucky color and good fortune during the New Year.

While Lunar New Year is a staple in several Asian cultures, it has also become widely celebrated in Asian-American culture. It is recognized by many as a time for reunions and family gatherings. Because of this, millions of relatives and families are moving in and out of Asia and America, either visiting friends or loved ones in different parts of the world.

CNN Beijing reports upwards of thirty million tourist trips in and out of China since the beginning of the celebrations, in what is known as the “Lunar New Year Rush” or 春运 (spring movement), and the numbers only increase when incorporating other countries as well. With several COVID restrictions lifted, numbers have surged in transit; however, not as much as before the pandemic, as the total trips are only around fifty percent of pre-pandemic travel numbers.

As the celebrations and festivities draw to a close, it is important to look back to how the celebration brought people together.

We “welcome the New Year and invite visitors from all over the world to participate with the Chinese New Year Parade, Flower Fair, public art, exhibitions, tours, and various activities,” Leung said.

This is due to many Asian Americans intermingling with other cultures and putting their own spin on the tradition while spreading the joy and wonder their ancestors once felt. Ultimately, Lunar New Year may seem startlingly different from the Gregorian New Year. Still, they both bring people together and celebrate a new beginning, ending an old year, and starting anew.