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When and where is Lunar New Year celebrated?

The Lunar New Year falls on a different date every year, between January 21 and February 20 and the calendar goes by the cycle of the moon. It’s a major holiday in China and celebrated grandly in Vietnam, Korea and people of Chinese descent in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and all around the world. 

The Chinese zodiac

The Chinese zodiac moves in a 12-year cycle with a different animal each year. Based on Asian astrology, your year of birth and the animal it represents determines your personality traits, fortune for the year, marriage, compatibility and career growth and family life. 

As legend has it, the Jade Emperor held a race to determine the 12 spots in the zodiac to 12 animals. The 12 that arrived first were selected. The animals in order are Rat Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. 2018 was the Year of the Dog.

Spring cleaning

According to old superstitions, cleaning during the holiday brings bad luck. To get rid of negative energy from the previous year, it’s necessary to clean your house, declutter and throw away old, unwanted things.

Paying respects

Lunar New Year is essentially a time for family reunions and this includes paying respects to elders and ancestors. Before the reunion dinner, food is often offered to ancestors to feed their souls. This is followed by family members lighting incense sticks to pay their respects and receive blessings for a good year ahead. 

Reunion dinner

It’s a tradition to have a reunion dinner with family and relatives. It’s considered the most important celebratory meal of the entire year. Dishes are served during the Lunar New Year for their symbolic meaning. The auspicious representation of these foods is based on their pronunciation or appearance. For instance, dumplings symbolise wealth as they are the same shape as silver ingots. Fish is also an important part of New Year meals because the word “fish” in Chinese sounds the same as the word ‘extra’ and ‘surplus’.

Everything is new

It’s common for many to get new clothes and new haircuts to make a fresh start.

Colours, lights and sounds

Lunar New Year celebrations are a burst of light and sound that includes lion and dragon dances, firecrackers, cymbals, gongs and drum beats. Firecrackers are believed to scare away evil spirits and the lion and dragon dances are supposed to bring good luck, health and prosperity.

Red is preferred

Red is the colour of happiness and celebration. Many wear red, deck their homes in red, pink and yellow, plus cut out paper decorations and red lanterns as they symbolise happiness, good fortune, longevity and prosperity. Chinese characters that signify good fortune are commonly seen in homes. 

Red packets

The young and old love Lunar New Year as it’s that time of the year when they receive cash in ang bao, hong bao, lai see or red packets as you may know them. Kids and unmarried adults are the ones who gain more as it’s a tradition for them to receive red packets from their grandparents, parents, employers and married couples. The packet should also contain new banknotes, the sum preferably an even number but never in denominations of four as the word four sounds like the word of death. With the introduction of the red envelope app, kids can now also receive cash digitally from their relatives.

No meat

On the 1st day of Lunar New Year, people usually don’t eat meat. Abstaining from meat on the 1st day is believed to ensure a long and happy life. 

Decorative plants

Flower and plants with auspicious names are important decorative items for the home during Lunar New Year. Plants favoured by Chinese families include the kumquat (lime), mandarin oranges, ornamental pineapples, pussy willow, narcissus and lucky bamboo. Bamboo plants, with their straight and hollow stem, are regarded as a symbol of simplicity and humility. They also represent integrity as they bend without easily breaking.

Flowers for luck

The two flowers most commonly associated with Lunar New Year are the plum blossom, which is a symbol of courage and hope, and the water narcissus, which symbolises good luck and prosperity.