Lunar New Year: What is it and how do people celebrate?


Posted

February 14, 2018 06:13:27

This week, about 1.5 billion people around the world are getting ready to welcome the Year of the Dog.

It’s all about spending time with family and friends, feasting on foods with symbolic meanings, gift-giving and good wishes.

Here’s a look at how Lunar New Year began, and some of the ways people from Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese backgrounds will be celebrating in Australia.

Why is it the Year of the Dog?

The lunar calendar has a 12-year cycle with a different animal each year.

The legend is that the Jade Emperor in China held a race to allocate 12 spots in the zodiac to 12 animals, and this was the order they arrived: rat, ox/buffalo, tiger, rabbit or cat (depending on whether it’s the Chinese or Vietnamese zodiac), dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

Why is New Year celebrated in February this year?

Lunar New Year usually occurs sometime between January and February. It’s on a different date each year because the calendar goes by the cycle of the moon.

This year, New Year’s Eve is on Thursday, February 15. On that night, it’s goodbye to the Year of the Rooster, and a big welcome to the Year of the Dog the next day.

Is Lunar New Year the same as Chinese New Year?

While Chinese New Year can also be called Lunar New Year, Lunar New Year does not only mean new year for Chinese people.

This is because many countries around the world use the lunar calendar alongside the Gregorian calendar, for example, to observe days for festivals and rituals, and sometimes even birthdays.

So Lunar New Year simply refers to new year celebrations wherever the lunar calendar is used.

There are similar celebrations held on the same day by different people, for instance Spring Festival in China and Tet in Vietnam.

Food with symbolic meanings

For Korean families, there is one food at new year that’s an absolute must because it will literally age you.

The rice cake soup tteokguk — which is also eaten throughout the year — is such a big part of new year that the greeting on New Year’s Day is, “Have you eaten rice cake soup?”.

After you eat the soup, you become one year older.

“You also gain fortune if you eat rice cake soup,” says chef Heather Jeong.

“It’s lucky to eat rice cake because it’s white. It signifies cleanliness and purity, and it’s about bringing good fortune to the rest of the year.”

In the Vietnamese tradition, one good wish at this time of year is cầu vừa đủ xài, which means “pray that you have enough for the year”.

This saying also sounds a lot like the names of four fruits.

Cầu sounds like custard apple and also “praying”, vừa (coconut) and đủ (pawpaw) both sound like words for “enough”, and xài (mango) sounds like “to you”.

Meanwhile on Chinese menus, banquets feature dishes with auspicious names, such as sea moss and dried oysters (fà cài háo shì), which sounds the same as prosperity and good business (fā cái hào shì), and whole steamed fish, because fish sounds like “surplus” — may you have enough every year.

And at home, families gather to make dumplings together before the New Year’s Eve feast, considered lucky because dumplings are shaped like silver ingots, a traditional form of currency.

Gift-giving with lucky money

Whether you call it red packets, lai see, ang bao, hong bao, or li xi, a favourite time of year for young and old is the receiving of cash.

Perhaps the young have more to benefit though — traditionally it’s the grandparents, parents, and married couples who give red packets to the young and unmarried.

In the Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese traditions, children will greet their parents and grandparents on New Year’s Day with good wishes, for example, wishing them good health and longevity.

The elders will then give red packets to them with good wishes for their own, for example, for success in their studies and for their wishes to come true.

In the Korean tradition, the money is given in a plain envelope.

The oldest child receives more money than the second born and the third born and so on.

“It’s a remnant of the hierarchy,” says Heather Jeong.

“Because the oldest child has more responsibilities than the younger siblings. It all works out in the end.”

Meanwhile, social media apps like WeChat have transformed the way many people exchange red packets.

At new year, friends and family use WeChat to send money to each other in auspicious and meaningful amounts.

For example RMB$8.88 (about $1.80) sounds like “bā bā bā”, which sounds like “prosper, prosper, prosper”.

And RMB$52 (about $10.45) sounds like “I love you” (wǔ èr sounds like wǒ ài nǐ).

Paying respects to elders and ancestors

At its heart, Lunar New Year is a family reunion. Paying respects to elders can take many forms, from bowing to parents and grandparents to making sure they get the first piece of roast duck at dinner.

For many people, it might be the one time of year where they visit a temple to pay respects to ancestors by lighting incense sticks and making offerings, and praying to deities.

It’s all part of ensuring a good start to the year for everyone, and putting the old year aside for a new beginning.

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Topics:

community-and-multicultural-festivals,

community-and-society,

human-interest,

australia

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