Things to Know About Lunar New Year

Article by Ka Yee Chan
Graphic by Candace Lee

The Lunar New Year is right around the corner on Friday the 31st! This year is the Year of the Horse. Many people have wondered how the Lunar New Year began and what are some of the traditions and preparations during the holidays?

According to Chinese’ s folk tales, Lunar New Year started with fighting against a mythical beast called Nian. On the first day of New Year, Nian would come out and eat livestock, crops and even villagers. The villagers prepare and place food outside of their homes for protection from Nian. One day, a villager saw that Nian was scared away by a child wearing red. From then on, villagers would hang red lanterns and post red paper-cuts with writings on their windows and doors. They would also use loud sounds from burning firecrackers to scare away Nian. Nian never came back to the village again. Later, after a monk captured Nian, villagers still continued to decorate their home with red around New Years. To the villagers, red was a sign of protection and good luck.

Although there is no monster called Nian anymore, people still continue the tradition of decorating with the color red during New Years. The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a festival of 15 days. On New Year’s Eve, instead of heading out to Times Square, families would come together and clean the house. Cleaning the house represents sweeping away the bad-fortune and getting ready for good incoming luck from the New Year. People would post red paper cutouts and couplets with meanings of good fortune, happiness, and health on their doors and walls. Everything needs to be prepared before the New Year. For example, everyone has to shower before midnight strikes and if someone wants a haircut, it has to be done before the New Year arrives.

There are different ways to spend the 15 days of the New Year, excluding several days that are celebrated similarly. On the first day of the New Year, it is the time to play with fireworks, bamboo sticks and all the fun, loud toys. Some families would invite the Lion Dance performance to bring good luck. “Nian-Gao” is also a must have food for the New Year. It is somewhat like a cake made of glutinous rice. Eating Nian-Gao symbolizes continuous growth in each coming year. The New Year is the best way for children to earn extra allowances. It is a day for children to honor their elders. In return, elders have to give red envelope with cash inside to the children as blessings. In return, elders give red envelopes of money to the youngsters as a blessing. The second day is a day where married daughters can visit their birth parents. Traditionally, married daughters do not have the opportunity to visit their birth parents frequently. The seventh day of New Year is known “Ren-Ri” (everyone’s birthday), is the day when everyone is growing a year older. Finally, the last day of the New Year Festival is called Lantern Festival or “Yuan-Xiao”. On this day, family would get together and eat a rice dumpling called “ Tang-Yuan”. The rice dumplings are round and often have fillings of sesame or peanuts. It is served in ginger-sugared soup. Tang-Yuan marks the end of the festival and the beginning of a good year to come.

Even though, traditional customs are not closely followed nowadays, the vibe of the Lunar New Year is still present. Starting from Lunar New Year’s Eve, we would have continuous family-friends gatherings and dinners. In Chinatown, you would see elders rushing to the bank to get new money for their red envelope blessings, mothers buying fresh ingredients before the markets close and workers rushing to get home to prepare for the New Year. On New Year’s Day, NYC’s Chinatowns (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn) will be filled with crowds wearing vibrant colors. People will crowd together to see the Chinese traditional firecracker ceremony of the Lunar New Year. If you haven’t seen it, please join us for the 15th New Year Firecracker Ceremony & Cultural Festival this Friday,

If you want to continue the festival vibe, you can also join AsianInNY for a Lunar New Year Parade in Atlantic City on Feb 8th for a fun trip to meet friends, for more information:

I am now off to prepare for my Lunar New Year. Happy Lunar New Year to all of you!

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