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Traditions Welcoming the Lunar New Year

2022-01-25
A backdrop for the 2022 Chinese New Year (Source: Tegeme/SFGate)
A backdrop for the 2022 Chinese New Year (Source: Tegeme/SFGate)

Many parts of the world are celebrating the arrival of the Lunar New Year; but not all countries and cultures celebrate the same way! From fireworks to little red envelopes, let’s explore how New Year’s Eve and Lunar New Year is celebrated in China and the U.S.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, begins on February 1st and will continue until the 15th. The date for Chinese New Year changes each year, as it follows the Lunar Calendar, but it always falls between January 21st to February 20th. It is also important to note that the Lunar New Year celebrations vary depending on which part of China the celebrations are taking place. According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2022 is the year of the Tiger, specifically the Water Tiger, which only occurs every 60 years and symbolizes power, boldness, and a propensity for doing everything big.

Preparation for the holiday begins in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve. Families prepare by cleaning and decorating their homes, shopping for the New Year, and offering sacrifices to ancestors. The celebrations, however, kick off on New Year's Eve, or January 31st, when families gather for a reunion dinner and stay up until midnight to bring in the New Year.

On New Year’s Eve, parents and other elders in the family would distribute red envelopes to the younger generation. This small envelope is an exciting gift, as it contains money and symbolizes blessings and prosperity for the year ahead. Traditionally, parents may leave the red envelope under their child's pillow as they sleep at night, while grandparents hand out their gift to the children after they “kowtow” as a sign of respect. For some families, kneeling is an alternative form of showing respect.

Historically on New Year's Day, you would hear a myriad of fireworks all across China, from the big cities to rural villages. It is believed the louder fireworks mean more luck and prosperity in the coming year. On this day, people will put on new clothes and tell those around them “gongxi,” meaning “greetings” or “best wishes”.

The next two weeks are spent visiting family and friends, and each day holds its own specific meaning or tradition, including certain taboos that are avoided during festival days due to superstitions. Festivities conclude on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival, where the streets are decorated with colorful lanterns, some of which are released into the sky or sent floating down rivers. February 15th marks the first full moon of the Lunar New Year and the end of the new year festivities in China.


The Chinese Lantern Festival began over 2000 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty (Source: Chinesenewyear.net)

New Year’s Eve in America

In the United States, the most significant celebrations and traditions take place on December 31st, or New Year's Eve. New Year’s is also celebrated in China with many looking forward to the festivities. In the U.S. family and friends gather for a meal, wear festive clothes adorned with glitter and typically black and gold, and prepare to countdown to midnight for the start of the New Year. Many people toast with champagne and kiss a loved one or significant other just as the clock strikes midnight.

New York City hosts one of the largest New Years' celebrations, where tens of thousands of people gather in Times Square and millions more watch the countdown from home. At the center of the celebration, alongside celebrity performances and guest appearances, is the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball, a nearly 12,000-pound ball made entirely of Waterford Crystal. The Ball begins its descent as the crowd counts down the last few seconds of the year in unison.

2022 New Years Eve celebration in Times Square, New York City (Source: AFP via Getty Images)

Celebrating the start of the new year in New York City first began over 100-years ago in 1904, but New York is not the only city to hold a major New Years' Eve celebration in the U.S. Cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, and New Orleans all host their own New Years' Eve celebrations full of fun and unique traditions and festivities.

One tradition many Americans participate in is creating New Year's Resolutions, or goals that they hope to accomplish in the upcoming year. According to a survey by Statista, the top New Year's Resolutions for 2022 are to exercise more and eat healthier. Other goals include spending more time with friends and family, spending less time on social media, and stressing less at work.

The Meaning of New Years

No matter where you live, the arrival of the Lunar New Year symbolizes a fresh start and new beginnings for the year to come. It is a time traditionally spent surrounded by good food, festive fireworks, and in the presence of friends and family. From all of us here at CUSEF, we wish you a Happy New Year, and Gong xi fa cai (Mandarin) and gong hei fat choy (Cantonese) to all!

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