Holidays Lunar New Year Top

Understanding Lunar New Year

Red packets that adults put money in for younger family members. (Lianna Ng/YJI)

What is Lunar Year (農曆年)?

A Lunar Year generally has 12 months, although every three years, there are 13 months. That’s why Lunar New Year doesn’t have a fixed date in relation to the Georgian Calendar, instead taking place on any day between late January to February.

Lunar New Year is celebrated in several Asian countries, such as China, Korea and Vietnam. 

Chinese Zodiac (生肖)

A stuffed animal ox that belongs to the author. (Lianna Ng/YJI)

According to Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor wanted to choose 12 animals (the Chinese Zodiac) to represent each year in rotation.

In order to choose the 12 animals, he held a river-crossing race. The winner of the race became the first Zodiac and so on.

This year is the Year of the Ox, which is described as a symbol of diligence and perseverance. Decorations of the Ox are seen almost everywhere! 

Fai Chun that the author put on her bedroom door. On the left it says ‘intelligence’, and on the right, ‘academic improvement.’ The middle reads ‘fortune’, and is being placed upside down because the Chinese word for ‘upside down’ sounds the same as ‘arrive.’ (Lianna Ng/YJI)

Household decorations

In Chinese culture, red is a symbol of good luck. During Lunar New Year, people put up red colored decorations. 

Flowers for Lunar New Year, arranged by the author’s mother. (Lianna Ng/YJI)

The first decoration would be Fai Chun (揮春). A wide range of phrases related to good luck and blessing (新年賀詞) are written in calligraphy on red paper, and hung up on doors, always in pairs. 

There is a phrase ‘花開富貴’, directly translating to flowers blossoms and wealth, roughly meaning to have a happy life. Therefore, people go to flower markets (花市), which open a week before Lunar New Year and close on New Year’s Eve, to buy all kinds of different flowers. 

On a side note, Flower Markets nowadays do not only sell flowers, but also traditional snacks and a variety of non-perishable goods. 

The final decoration would be snack and candy box we call ‘全盒’, which represents the phrase ‘十全十美’, meaning perfection. These boxes come in many different designs as well. 

Spring Cleaning (大掃除)

Three days before New Year’s Day is called ‘年廿八’. Traditionally, this is the day families clean their homes, symbolizing ‘迎新送舊’ – welcoming the new, farewell to the old, and removing all the bad luck in preparation for the new year. 

New Year’s Day (初一)

A ‘全盒’ at the author’s grandpa’s house. He kept it simple and relatively healthy this year, only putting pistachios in. Pistachios are called ‘開心果’ in Chinese, which literally means ‘happy nut.’ (Lianna Ng/YJI)

Now that all the preparation work is done, we are ready to celebrate New Year’s Day! 

Some families like to visit temples and burn incense to pay respects to the gods and ask for their blessings. 

All families go to the homes of our relatives and friends. The moment we arrive, we greet each other with the different phrases related to good luck and blessing. Then, married elders give out red packets in pairs (利是), which contain money and are a form of blessing.

We will also have meals together – typical dishes include turnip cake, taro cake and sweet rice cake. Afterwards, adults play gambling games like Mahjong and Fish Shrimp Crab.

Lianna Ng is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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