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Lunar New Year: Cultures, Traditions & Celebrations

Posted by Chloe G. on January 20, 2023.

Each year, more than 1.5 billion people celebrate the Lunar New Year with a variety of customs and festivities in order to greet the next year and make good fortune and luck wishes. The top facts about Lunar New Year are listed below.

#1. Lunar New Year Traditions and Customs

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The Lunar New Year is a festivity full of customs and traditions. Asian nations have many customs in common, but they also each have a few that are different.

#2. Preparations before Lunar New Year

Typically, people begin to get ready for the New Year a week or two before the actual celebration. People start preparing New Year items, cleaning their homes, decorating them with lanterns and New Year paintings, praying to the Kitchen God, and other activities starting one week before the Lunar New Year.

The theme of all these events is “say farewell to the old and welcome the future.”

  • New Year Shopping

Similar to the Christmas season, the Lunar New Year holiday period is dominated by shopping. There are a lot of New Year street markets in the days before the holiday.

Numerous items are purchased by people, such as fresh clothing, presents for loved ones, meals, snacks, spring couplets, lights, and fireworks.

  • Send off the Kitchen God

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The practice of sending off the “Kitchen God” is quite old. Asian people’s mythology holds that the Kitchen God departs on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month to provide the Jade Emperor in heaven with an annual report on the household’s operations.

The Jade Emperor will reportedly decide whether to reward or punish that family in the coming year, according to the story.

Therefore, people make a large number of votive offerings to express their gratitude to the Kitchen God, ask him to speak well of them to the Jade Emperor and request a happy and peaceful New Year on their behalf.

  • Clean House

Before the new year begins, it is customary for families to clean their homes and the areas around them. We describe this as sweeping away the dust. Cleaning the house is a sign of chasing away the bad luck from the previous year to make room for a fresh start because the term “dust” for Asian people is a homophone for “old.”


#3. Celebrations on Lunar New Year’s Eve

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The most significant day of the festival is Lunar New Year’s Eve, the final day of the previous year. There are numerous customs associated with this day.

  • Putting up Red Decorations

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, doors and windows are covered with fresh Spring Festival couplets, papercuts, New Year’s photos, representations of the Door God, and other decorations. They are all usually red.

It stands for a strategy to frighten off the fabled monster called Nian, which also means “year.” According to legend, if Nian wasn’t successfully driven away on New Year’s Eve, he would eat people and livestock.

  • Offer Sacrifices to Ancestors

One of the most significant folk traditions of the Lunar New Year is making offerings to the ancestors. It is an indication of reverence and piety. Additionally, it is said that ancestral spirits guard their offspring and grant them luck and wealth in the coming year.

A ceremony honoring ancestors may take place before a New Year’s Eve feast in some locales or at midnight in others.

Offerings are made to the ancestors in some cultures at home, while in others, individuals go to the graves of their ancestors to do so. Wine, chicken, meat, joss sticks, and joss paper are typical offerings.

  • Enjoy a Reunion Feast

Family members get together for a reunion on New Year’s Eve, some of whom may have traveled far to get home. The largest and most significant dinner of the year is the one on the eve of the lunar new year, also known as the “Reunion Feast.”

Family members eat and drink a range of delectable meals and beverages while seated around a round table. The majority of them have symbolic, lucky meanings, such as fish, which means “surplus” or “abundance,” jiaozi, or dumplings, which means “wealth,” lotus roots, which mean “wisdom,” lettuce, which means “wealth,” sausage, which means “longevity,” and niangao, which means the promise of a “better year,” among others.

  • Give Red Envelopes

Giving red envelopes containing cash, known as red envelopes in Mandarin, lai see in Cantonese, or lì xì in Vietnamese is customary after the New Year’s Eve supper.

The younger generation frequently receives red envelopes from the elderly, which are meant to ward off evil spirits and communicate heartfelt wishes for luck. Adults send red envelopes to their parents as well wishes for longevity and good health.


#4. Traditions and Superstitions for New Year’s Day

The first day of the Lunar New Year represents a fresh start and renews wishes for success, fortune, and happiness. Some people think that what happens on January 1st has an impact on the remainder of the year. There are therefore many customs and superstitions associated with this day (and a day or two afterward).

  • Give Red Envelopes and Extend New Year Greetings

Following the midnight fireworks and firecrackers, people begin to wish each other a happy new year and exchange red envelopes (either in person or by texts and applications, which also supports sending electronic red envelopes!).

  • Visit Relatives and Friends

People still exchange visits on New Year’s Day and for the following several days, first with close relatives and later with distant relatives and friends.

A married daughter is not supposed to go to her parent’s house on Chinese New Year’s Day because it is a long-held superstition that doing so will bring the parents bad luck.

People visit friends and family members’ homes, bringing gifts or red envelopes, and exchanging “Happy New Year!” and other greetings. To visit someone without a present is rude.

  • Watch Dragon and Lion Dances

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During the Chinese New Year festivities, lion and dragon dances are frequently performed. They serve as a representation of Asian culture and are thought to bring good fortune and wealth.


#5. Year of the Rabbit or Year of the Cat?

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East Asian nations have a tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year, particularly China and those with a strong Chinese cultural impact, such as Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Although it may go by different names in various East Asian nations and cultures, Lunar New Year is always observed on the same day (and the days that follow) with identical festivities.

The new year that starts on January 22 corresponds to the rabbit, the element of water, the feminine yin force, and most of East Asia. Because the cycle takes 60 years to complete, 60th birthdays are a major occasion throughout East Asia.

The zodiac’s animal affinities, however, might differ: Instead, the Year of the Cat will begin in Vietnam on January 22. Due to the good fortune connected with the most recent Year of the Cat, in 2011, Vietnam saw a baby boom.

The earthly branch that corresponds to “rabbit” in Vietnamese is pronounced meo, which is similar to the Vietnamese word for “cat” and is pronounced mao in Mandarin. This is one theory offered by academics as to why Vietnamese society commemorates it as the Year of the Cat.


#6. Chinese New Year VS Lunar New Year: Differences and Controversies

A more inclusive word that refers to all festivities that welcome a new year on a lunar calendar is Lunar New Year.

Referring to Lunar New Year as “Chinese New Year” or vice versa in contexts outside of China might come across as insensitive and disrespectful since it disregards other cultures, each of which has its own distinct traditions, beliefs, and festivities.

Many Asian nations, including China, Vietnam, the Koreas, Singapore, and Malaysia, celebrate the Lunar New Year. While certain traditions are universal, others are specific to the cultural identity of each nation.

Lunar New Year is known as Chnjié (/chwnn-jyeah/), also known as “Spring Festival” or “Chinese New Year,” in China. It is well renowned for welcoming in a brand-new sign in the 12-year Chinese animal zodiac cycle. Installing lanterns and Spring Festival couplets, hosting reunion meals with plenty of lucky food, lighting fireworks, and firecrackers, and distributing red envelopes are all popular events.  

Lunar New Year is referred to as “Tết” or “Vietnamese New Year” in Vietnam. Instead of the Rabbit and the Ox, the Cat and the Buffalo are zodiac signs in Vietnam. Vietnamese people have their own traditional cake (bánh chưng) and hoa đào (peach blossom trees) or hoa mai are used to decorate their homes (yellow Mai flower, a type of tree with yellow flowers).

The Lunar New Year is known as Seollal (/sllal/) in South Korea. Many Koreans dress in traditional Korean attire known as hanbok for the event, which also includes eating traditional foods like jeon and tteokguk (soup with sliced rice cakes) and performing ancestral ceremonies (pancakes).

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#7. Summary

If you conduct business in any markets where the Lunar New Year is celebrated, be sure to comprehend and respect their particular traditions. Best wishes for the new year from the GTE Localize team!

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