Each year, millions of people await the new moon that appears between January 21 and February 20. This new moon marks the renewal of the lunar calendar and the first day of a week-long celebration: Lunar New Year! This year, the new moon falls on February 5, but the festivities begin the night before and last long into the month.
Also referred to as “Chinese New Year” or the “Spring Festival”, this celebration has been observed for more than 4,000 years and is the longest holiday of the year, lasting 15 days. Because it bears so much history, there is a lot to learn about Lunar New Year, but here are a few facts to help you learn some of the basics about this ancient tradition!
A brief history of Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year is one of the world’s most widely celebrated holidays, with one-sixth of the world’s population taking part in the revelry. Millions of people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and other Asian countries celebrate Lunar New Year. There are also huge celebrations across the world in cities like London, New York and Sydney.
Each year is represented by one of 12 lunar zodiac signs. 2018 was the year of the dog, and on February 5, the new moon will ring in the year of the pig. The pig is the twelfth (or last) of all the zodiac animals, and there are various myths and stories about why Pig comes last. One myth states that the Jade Emperor decided the order of the Zodiac based on who arrived to his party the fastest – pig was last because he overslept. Despite coming in last place, the pig is a symbol of wealth in Chinese culture.
While people born in the Year of the Pig are typically blessed with good fortune, they will likely be unlucky during this lunar year. In Chinese culture, your own Zodiac year is considered to be your most unfortunate. Many people wear red during the Lunar New Year to ward off bad luck for the coming days.
15 days of tradition
There are many different traditions and specific celebrations that make up the 15-day-long festivities for Lunar New Year. People typically begin celebrating one week before the new year on “Little Year,” which is a time to prepare for the new moon and often includes cleaning and prayer to rid the home of bad luck. On New Year’s Eve (February 4), families typically celebrate by joining together for a massive feast and stay up late to wait for the new year to begin.
When it turns to the new year or “Spring Festival”, families and friends celebrate by lighting off fireworks, kicking off a day of greeting and blessings. Some believe that the most firecrackers in the world are set off in the early hours of the Lunar New Year!
There are many other traditions throughout the fifteen-day celebration, including specific visits to family members, and recognition of certain zodiacs like the rat and the horse. Many of the celebrations include spiritual reflection and preparation in the hopes of a bright and fruitful new year. Each festivity commemorates a specific attribute of Chinese history, culture, and tradition.
The Lantern Festival
During the last few days of the Lunar New Year celebrations, people begin preparing their lanterns for the culminating tradition: the Lantern Festival. This tradition is held on the first full moon of the new Lunar Calendar, this year falling on February 19. As you may have guessed, this day is celebrated by building lanterns and releasing them into the sky alongside the full moon. Many people write riddles on their lanterns and play a guessing game to find the answers. The Lantern Festival is all about celebrating light and beginning the new year by bringing some joy and illuminating the darkness.