The Lunar New Year is a multi-day festival, typically celebrated in East and South East Asian countries, that begins at the start of the new moon cycle and ends with the first full moon. Many countries celebrate the new year in different ways and most celebrate over several days. Lunar New Year is commonly celebrated in China and other Asian countries such as South Korea and Vietnam but is recognized and celebrated globally. The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so its start and end dates vary from year to year. This year’s lunar new year celebrations will begin January 22nd and run until February 5th.
2023 is the Year of the Rabbit! Rabbits are a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity.
Traditions and celebrations of the lunar new year vary in different countries and cultures. The celebrations throughout the holiday are intended to usher in luck and prosperity in the coming year. Let’s learn how some countries prepare for and celebrate the lunar new year!
In China, the celebration of the lunar new year (otherwise known as Chinese New Year) dates back to 14th century B.C. It has remained the most important and longest celebrated holiday of the year in China, and in Chinese communities throughout the world. People travel all over the world, sometimes thousands of miles, to celebrate with their families. The Chinese new year is marked by a 15-day celebration with festivals, music, folklore, traditional food dishes, and more! The end of the Chinese New Year is marked by the lantern festival.
As with most holidays, food plays a special role in celebrating the Chinese new year. Some of these traditional dishes include rice ball soup, moon-shaped rice cakes, and dumplings! In addition to foods, decorations play an important role in lunar new year celebrations, particularly the color red!
In ancient Chinese folklore, 'Nian' was a beast that would feast on people during the winter, and particularly the lunar new year. But, Nian feared fire, loud noises, and the color red. So, red has become a staple color for Chinese new year celebrations. Additionally, fire-lit lanterns, fireworks, red posters and decorations are thought to ward off Nian and other evils!
In addition to the legend of Nian, Sui (祟) was another evil spirit who was thought to prey on sleeping children on new year's eve. In the tale, parents put coins on a red envelope by their sleeping children. The flash from the coins and the color red scared off Sui and protected the children. It has become tradition that children receive red envelopes with money from family members on new year's eve.
Korean New Year, otherwise known as 'Seollal' is a multiple day celebration and is one of Korea's most important holidays. South Koreans celebrate Lunar New Year for three days: the day before, the day of, and the day after. North Korea was forbidden to celebrate Lunar New Year for many years; although the holiday is accepted today, it is not as widely celebrated or traditionally practiced as it is in South Korea. The traditions that will be mentioned in this post are typical of South Korean lunar new year celebrations.
During the three day holiday, it is traditional for Koreans to prepare ceremonial food as a memorial and prayer service for ancestors known as Charye. However, the Charye ritual is less common today than it was in the past. Additionally, during the holiday it is traditional to wear 'hanbok,' Korean formal dress intended for special holidays and events (though not everyone does). It is also traditional to play the board game 'Yut Nori.'
Korean foods such as a five grain dish and sliced rice cake soup (Tteokguk) and Korean savory pancakes (Jeon) are traditional during the new year, however, every family has their own traditions when it comes to food. Additionally, after the children perform a traditional bow, they are given money in white and patterned envelopes called sebaedon. In Korea, the new year is largely a celebration of ancestral history, food, family, and growing one year older.
Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tết) is one of the most important traditional holidays in Vietnam. Tết is short for Tết Nguyên Đán which marks the Lunar New Year in Vietnam and is the feast for the "Festival of the First Morning of the First Day." Official Tet celebration is three days but festivities can last up to a week. During this time, many people travel to celebrate with family.
During Tet, it is believed that the first houseguest to arrive brings an aura that will affect the entire family. So, if the first person to arrive is well-respected, successful, known to be lucky, or in good health, for example, the family will receive good fortune during the new year.
During Tet, Vietnamese select fruit to create a five-fruit tray ('Mam Ngu Qua') to be placed out on a red wooden tray in gratitude of Heaven, Earth, and their ancestors. Some fruits that are used for the five-fruit tray might include kumquats, bananas, coconuts, apples, finger citrons, watermelons, and more! The fruits are arranged in a colorful cone-like shape. Fruits used on five-fruit trays in Vietnam differ by region due to differing climate and crops.
Vietnamese decorate their homes with kumquat trees and peach or apricot blossoms. A "Cay Neu" (tall bamboo tree) is placed in front of homes and is decorated with red paper. In Vietnamese culture the color red is used to ward off evil spirits.
Traditional foods such as bánh chưng, a rice cake with beans and pork that is wrapped in bamboo leaves, are eaten during Tet. The process of making chung cakes (bánh chưng) is very time consuming and requires help from multiple people. In addition to bánh chưng, sweet snacks made from dried fruit and seeds like mứt tết are also prepared for Tet.
Other traditions of the Vietnamese New Year are cleaning out and decorating the home as well as getting new clothes. It is common in Vietnam for parents to purchase new clothes for their children that are not allowed to be worn until the new year. Additionally, children receive red envelopes with money from elders as well as words of wisdom for the coming year.
Note: Many countries recognize and celebrate the Lunar New Year and everyone celebrates differently. These are just a few examples of how the Lunar New Year is commonly celebrated in East and Southeast Asia.