Grab your favorite red shirt; It’s time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
We say goodbye to the tiger and enter the year of the rabbit on January 22, 2023.
Millions of families around the world prepare to celebrate one of the biggest celebrations of the year.
If you are a Lunar New Year newbie, here is a quick guide to the most common traditions and superstitions associated with the occasion.
There are countless folk tales associated with the Lunar New Year, but the myth of “Nian” stands out as the most iconic and funniest.
According to legend, Nian was a fierce underwater beast with sharp teeth and horns. On every Lunar New Year’s Eve, it crept onto land and attacked a nearby village.
On one such occasion, when the villagers went into hiding, a mysterious old man appeared and insisted on staying in the village, despite having been warned of impending doom.
To the surprise of the villagers, the old man and the village survived completely unscathed.
The man claimed to scare Nian away by hanging red banners on the door, setting off firecrackers and wearing red clothing.
Thus, wearing the fiery color – down to underwear – along with hanging red banners with auspicious phrases and lighting firecrackers or fireworks became Lunar New Year traditions, all of which are still observed today.
Jokes aside, Lunar New Year can actually be a lot of work.
Celebrations often last 15 days – or even longer – with various quests and activities taking place during this period.
It all starts about a week before the New Year.
Before we start, a quick note: While there are a few different ways to say “Happy New Year!” Depending on where you are, we’ll stick to Mandarin and Cantonese in this story. We have included the romanized versions of both languages in our descriptions of the different traditions.
In the week leading up to the Lunar New Year, festive cakes and puddings are prepared on the 24th day of the last lunar month.
The word for cake and pudding is “gao” in Mandarin or “gou” in Cantonese, which sounds the same as the word for “big”.
As a result, it is believed that consuming them will lead to improvement and growth in the coming year. (If you haven’t already made your own gou, here’s an easy recipe for turnip pie, a popular Lunar New Year dish.)
But no preparation for the Lunar New Year would be complete without hanging red banners with auspicious phrases and phrases (called fai chun in Cantonese or chunlian in Mandarin) at home – starting at the front door.
On the 28th day of the last lunar month, which falls on January 19 this year, there is a big house cleanup.
The goal is to rid your home of all the bad luck that has accumulated over the past year.
Many other rules and superstitions are associated with the Lunar New Year.
For example, do not wash or cut your hair on the first day of the New Year.
Why? The Chinese character for hair is the first character in the word for wealth. Therefore, washing or cutting it off is seen as washing away your assets.
You should also avoid buying shoes for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese.
Wear red, however. As mentioned above, it is associated with good luck and prosperity. (Read more Lunar New Year dos and don’ts here.)
On New Year’s Eve, which falls on January 21 this year, there is usually a big family reunion.
The menu is carefully curated and includes dishes associated with good fortune, including fish (the Chinese word for it sounds like the word for “excess”), pudding (symbolizing progress) and food that looks like gold bars (like dumplings).
In China, the food served at these classic dinners varies from north to south. For example, northern Chinese tend to eat dumplings and noodles, while southern Chinese cannot live without steamed rice.
But no matter what dishes you prefer, Lunar New Year dishes are a feast of puns.
The first few days of the Lunar New Year, especially the first two days, are often a test of one’s stamina, appetite, and social skills as many people need to travel and visit immediate family, other relatives, and friends.
Bags are filled with gifts and fruit for each of the visited homes of elders and friends, who in return shower the visitor with gifts and snacks after engaging in conversations about Lunar New Year treats.
Married people also have to distribute red packets to those who have not yet said yes – both children and unmarried young people.
It is believed that these red envelopes could protect children from evil spirits called Xie Sui. The packets are known as Yasui Qian/Ngaat Seoi Cin and are said to ward off these spirits.
The third day of the Lunar New Year (which falls on January 24 this year) is called chi kou/cek hau, or red mouth. It is believed that this day is more likely to cause disputes, so people visit temples and avoid social interactions.
Each year, certain Chinese zodiac signs collide negatively with the stars. Temple attendance is a good way to resolve these conflicts and bring peace in the months to come.
The seventh day (January 28) of the lunar new year is said to be the day when the Chinese mother goddess Nuwa created humankind. Hence it is called renri/jan jat (birthday of the people).
Different communities in Asia serve different birthday dishes on this day.
For example, in Malaysia, people enjoy yeesang, or a “prosperity toss” made from raw fish and shredded vegetables, while the Cantonese eat sweet rice balls.
The climax of the entire Spring Festival takes place on the 15th and final day (February 5, 2023).
In ancient Chinese society, it was the only day young girls were allowed to go out to admire the lanterns and meet boys. For this reason it is also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Today, cities around the world still hold huge lantern exhibitions and fairs on the final day of the festival.