As we settle into the second month of the new year, the Lunar New Year celebrations have come to an end. With 2023 being the year of the rabbit, many people go into the new year not knowing what this signifies and the culture behind this Chinese holiday.
Similar to Christmas for the U.S., the Chinese, or if you’re celebrating outside of China, Lunar New Year is a 16-day celebration that is spread across two main events: the Spring Festival and the Lantern Festival. The Spring Festival spans from Jan. 22 through Feb. 1, and preparation for the Lantern Festival starts on Feb. 2 and goes until the day of the festival, Feb. 5.
The festival features many key points, some of the main features of this time being the color red, the animal of that year, fireworks, and dumplings. All of these have a deep history behind them and have been used for centuries to celebrate the holiday.
Each year also represents a different zodiac animal on the Chinese lunar calendar, with 12 animals representing 12 years. After 12 years is over, the cycle restarts and continues again for another 12 years, and so on and so forth. People born in years of certain zodiac animals also are associated with certain traits or characteristics. From 2020 until 2031 when the rotation restarts, here are the zodiac animals in order by year and the characteristics frequently associated with them.
Yi Su, Mandarin teacher for both Oswego High School and Oswego East High School, was born in China and continues to celebrate Lunar New Year in the U.S. She allowed students to get a taste of Chinese culture by making dumplings for guests to try during the International Fest that took place on Feb. 3 at OEHS.
“There are all kinds of dumplings; we don’t limit it,” Ms. Su says. “We mostly use napa, a kind of cabbage, and another one is chive, that we make a lot during this time.”
Su also explained how the Lunar New Year corresponds with the season and weather, and how it traditionally started at the beginning of spring. For the first part of the celebration, the Spring Festival, people would come home and spend time with their families. Similar to the U.S., in China, many people watch a broadcast with all their family and friends, that counts down until the new year just like the ball drop in One Times Square in New York City.
“People always come back home to stay with the family, and this would be their time to spend together,” Ms. Su says. “The whole country all watches the same broadcast we call Chunwan; it’s a concert that gathers famous singers and movie stars like that to celebrate going into the new year. They will do a lot of fireworks, and the people will wear red because it gives you good luck.”
While people are eating and watching Chunwan on New Year’s Eve, another tradition in Chinese culture is to leave the food on the table and not clean it up until the new year begins. This is meant to symbolize leaving the bad luck in the past year and continuing our good fortune into the new year.
“We don’t want to put out our good luck,” Ms. Su says.
Another symbol of good luck is the color red, and it’s history behind symbolizing good luck actually goes back to Chinese mythology. Myths state that a beast named Nian would chase and eat people on New Year’s Day, just at the edge of winter and spring. When people realized that the monster would be back again before the start of spring, they began to prepare fireworks and red to scare away the monster.
“All these things just to try and get rid of the monster Nian, and it worked,” Ms Su says. “So Chinese people begin to do this every year.”
The origin of the holiday dates back 2,000 years ago when Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han heard that monks would light candles for Buddha, and Emperor Wen of the Western Han marked Feb. 15th as a national holiday for peace. These two events would later combine into the Lantern Festival celebrated today.
After all the celebrations for the Spring Festival are over, the Lantern Festival begins. This is a celebration of society, a time to be social and free with your community. Back in ancient China, this would be generally one of the few times Chinese women were allowed outside of their homes to socialize, and this has also led this celebration to be known as the true Chinese Valentine’s Day. People generally light lanterns that will either float into the air or across water for the celebration, and these lanterns represent letting go of your past self.
There are some local events that allow us to experience this event. Aurora holds a lantern festival in February for those who may be interested in experiencing Lunar New Year celebrations near Oswego. OEHS also hosts a yearly International Fest, where students can get the chance to try food and learn not only about Lunar New Year, but many other cultures. Chinatown in Chicago also has a very large celebration, featuring a traditional Chinese parade.
So after hearing about Lunar New Year, are there any of these traditions that you would incorporate into your next year’s new year celebrations? Let us know in the comments!