Many of us have heard about Lunar New Year in the context of Chinese celebrations, but did you know that multiple populations around the world celebrate the Lunar New Year? For many, the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, began on January 22, 2022 and celebrations will last for about 2 weeks, ending on February 1st. This year is considered the year of the Rabbit, which symbolizes longevity, peace, and prosperity and 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope.
What is a Lunar Calendar?
Lunar New Year is based on a lunar calendar, which tracks the phases of the moon. A lunar year consists of 12 full cycles of the Moon, or about 354 days. In contrast, Western society is structured around the Gregorian calendar, which maps the 365 days it takes the Earth to circle the sun. For this reason, most lunar calendars are actually lunisolar, meaning an extra month is added every few years to realign the lunar and solar calendars. Because different ethnic populations handle these adjustments in different ways, the dates of Lunar New Years between groups can vary. Some lunar calendars, such as the Islamic (Hijri) calendar, are not adjusted, such that dates of religious festivals shift throughout all seasons of the solar year. Other lunar calendars include Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Bengali, Hindu, and Hebrew calendars.
Fun Fact: Since many Christian holidays are adapted from the Jewish tradition, some Christian holidays (such as Easter) also follow a lunisolar calendar.
Variations of Lunar New Year
In most calendars, Lunar New Year is marked by the first new moon in the lunisolar year (usually the second new moon after winter solstice). Across cultures, many celebrations include spending time with family, exchanging gifts or money symbolizing good fortune, and lots of food! Below are some descriptions for the Lunar New Year around the world.
Chinese New Year, Jan 22
Tradition stems from the legend of the beast Nian, who invaded China hungry for humans. The monster could be warded off by burning bamboo and candles, displaying red decorations, and wearing red. Chinese New Year is now celebrated by spending time with family, offering sacrifices to ancestors, giving red envelopes filled with money to younger family members, setting off fireworks, and watching lion and dragon dances.
Click here to learn more about Chinese New Year.
Vietnamese New Year (Tết), Jan. 22
Tết celebrates the arrival of spring and serves as a time to worship ancestors. Homes are decorated with peach or apricot blossoms to symbolize hope and good fortune. Families clean ancestors’ graves and present offerings at family altars. The first visitor to a home in the New Year is thought to influence a family’s health and wealth for the rest of the year, so visitors are chosen carefully!
Click here to learn more about Vietnamese New Year.
South Korean New Year (Seollal), Jan. 22
For Seollal, families gather to eat and play games. Seollal is celebrated with a ritual to honor ancestors called “charye”, in which female family members prepare food and males serve it to ancestors. By the time the family eats, they have won their ancestors’ blessing. Seollal is followed two weeks later by Jeongwol Daeboreum, which celebrates the first full moon of the new lunar year by lighting giant bonfires.
Click here to learn more about South Korean New Year.
Mongolian New Year (Tsagaan Sar), Feb. 21
Tsagaan Sar means “white month”, as white represents life beginning. In Buddhist tradition, Tsagaan Sar symbolizes the enlightenment of Buddha over falsehood; similarly, in indigenous Mongolian belief, it represents the triumph of the goddess Okn Tengr over an evil demon. Families celebrate by cleaning the house for the new year, making traditional foods, and greeting relatives. Because the holiday represents the arrival of spring, younger family members greet elders by asking “how did you fare this winter”.
Click here to learn more about Mongolian New Year.
New Year in Indian (South Asian) States (Ugadi and Gudi Padwa) Mar. 22
Ugadi is celebrated in the Indian states of Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh; the same holiday is called Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra. Ugadi/Gudi Padwa brings prosperity and the arrival of spring and is celebrated with prayer, decorations, and forecasts for the new year. A dish called pachadi is served, which contains six spices that symbolize the range of emotions to be experienced in the new year.
Click here to learn more about South Asian New Year.
Islamic New Year, July 19
Because the Hijri calendar is lunar, not lunisolar, the Islamic New Year migrates throughout the seasons. It begins with the first sighting of the lunar crescent rather than the new moon. It represents the migration, or Hijra, of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca, where they faced persecution for their beliefs, to Medina in 622 CE. As such, the Islamic New Year represents the beginning of an Islamic State and is celebrated with prayer and reflection.
Click here to learn more about Islamic New Year.
The Oakland Museum of CA (OMCA) is having their annual celebration next weekend (Jan 29th).
Family-friendly activities can be found here.
There are also many events that can be found on Eventbrite that are happening for the next couple of weeks.
Podcast – On This Day: Lunar New Year (7 minutes)
Article – What the Lunar New Year reveals about the world’s calendars
Video – Fortune Tales: The Story of Lunar New Year
Special thanks to Madeline Klinger, PhD Candidate at The Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, for her contribution to this communication.
In celebration of a hopeful new year!
– Dr. Ruth Shoge