What Is the Lunar New Year?

    09 February 2024

    On February 10, Asian American communities around the world will ring in the Year of the Dragon. Some Lunar New Year celebrations will be public, like parades and fireworks. But, families will also gather for private parties.

    What is the Lunar New Year?

    The Lunar New Year is a major holiday in several Asian countries. And people celebrate over several days or even weeks.

    A man holds a child in front of a giant dragon lantern decoration near the popular Houhai Lake in Beijing, China on February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
    A man holds a child in front of a giant dragon lantern decoration near the popular Houhai Lake in Beijing, China on February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    It is called the Spring Festival in China, Tet in Vietnam and Seollal in Korea.

    The holiday begins on the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends 15 days later on the first full moon. Because the holiday is based on the moon, it falls somewhere between the end of January and the end of February.

    The lunar calendar is based on 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. In the Vietnamese zodiac, the cat replaces the rabbit and the buffalo is in place of the ox. For 2024, it is the year of the dragon for both.

    What are some traditions around the Lunar New Year?

    One well-known ancient story speaks of Nian, a terrible monster that eats human flesh on New Year's Day. But Nian has some fears that weaken him. He fears the color red, loud noises and fire. So, Lunar New Year activities include putting up red paper dragons on the doors of homes. People also burn red lanterns all night and set off firecrackers to chase away the monster.

    To this day, the Lunar New Year celebration is centered on removing bad luck and welcoming all that is good and successful. Red is considered a lucky color to ring in a new year. In many Asian cultures, the color symbolizes a good future and joy. People wear red clothing, decorate their homes with red paper lanterns and use red envelopes to present loved ones with gifts of money. Gambling and playing traditional games are common during Lunar New Year among celebrants around the world.

    Ancestor worship is also common during this time. Many Korean families take part in a ceremony called "charye." Female family members prepare food and male members serve it to ancestors. The final act involves the entire family sharing a meal and asking for help from their ancestors for the coming year.

    Vietnamese culture holds a similar tradition. People cook traditional dishes and place them on a home altar in honor of their ancestors.

    How do diaspora communities celebrate?

    Members of Asian American communities around the U.S. also organize parades, parties and other events around the Lunar New Year. Lion and dragon dances are common, as are fireworks, traditional food and cultural performances. People do special cleanings of their homes and decorate using orchids and other brightly colored flowers.

    What are some special foods for the New Year?

    Each culture has its own special foods for New Year celebration, including dumplings, rice cakes, spring rolls, tangerines, fish and meats.

    In Chinese culture, for example, "changshou mian" or "long-life noodles" are eaten with a wish for a long, healthy and happy life. Koreans celebrate with "tteokguk," a soup that contains thinly sliced rice cakes.

    And Vietnamese culture has "banh chung", a traditional dish made from rice, mung bean and pork belly. The dish is usually covered with banana leaves, shaped into a square and tied up with strings for steaming.

    I'm Caty Weaver.

    Caty Weaver adapted this story for VOA Learning English from an Associated Press report.


    Words in This Story

    diasporan. people settled far from their ancestral homelands

    calendar n. a system for fixing the beginning, length, and divisions of the civil year and arranging days and longer divisions of time (such as weeks and months) in a definite order

    monster n. a strange, frightening and/or horrible creature

    lantern n. a usually portable protective case for a light with transparent openings

    decorate n. to make more appealing or meaningful by adding something beautiful, symbolic, interesting etc.

    altar n. a table or place which serves as a center of worship or ritual