Lunar New Year
Are you up for a special New Year’s adventure? You could go to Asia and celebrate the Lunar New Year there! There are huge celebrations in China especially, with red lanterns, lion dances, and lantern festivals. Join in with the festivities!
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the Lunar New Year and let you know which destinations are best to experience this special festival up close. Let’s get started!
Interesting Facts about the Lunar New Year
The lunar calendar
How did the Lunar New Year get its name? The Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar which follows the different phases of the moon. The traditional Chinese calendar is a mixture of the lunar and solar calendars.
Unlike the solar calendar, which considers one year the time it takes for the Earth to revolve once around the sun, the lunar calendar consists of twelve lunar months. This means a calendar year is over when the moon has circled the earth twelve times.
When is the Lunar New Year celebrated?
One second – doesn’t the official date of the Chinese New Year change each year? That’s right! This is because a month doesn’t begin on a specific date, but rather when a new moon phase begins.
The new year in China always begins when the moon has orbited the earth twelve times – except when you have a leap month. This month is necessary to ensure that the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is always held during a certain period: between the 21st of January and the 21st of February.
So, don’t expect celebrations to be taking place on the 31st of December. The western New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have very little meaning in China. If you’re planning a trip there, you should definitely check the exact date of the Lunar New Year beforehand.
The exact origin of the Lunar New Year is unknown. That said, it’s believed the Spring Festival originated over 3,500 years ago. Back during Chinese agrarian society, the Lunar New Year was mainly celebrated in the hope of having a successful harvest that year.
Legend has it the monster Nian lives in China and wakes up on New Year to frighten people. The monster does have a weakness however – it fears the colours red and gold. Therefore, many people decorate their houses and streets with red and gold decorations to scare the monster away.
Loud noise is also believed to frighten the monster. It’s therefore part of the New Year tradition to make as much noise as possible with fireworks and music. Get ready for some colourful and noisy celebrations!
The Lunar New Year has a much deeper meaning than just the expulsion of the monster Nian, however. In fact, it’s the most important festival of the whole year. It’s most comparable to Christmas and New Year’s Eve put together. Often, it’s the only time people come home to eat and celebrate with their families.
The celebration is mostly about the year that’s passed. People tend to believe that the beginning of the year influences how it will proceed – so, if you have a good start, you’re in for a happy and successful year.
How is the Lunar New Year Celebrated?
The Lunar New Year takes a fair amount of time to welcome in – the Spring Festival is celebrated over a period of 16 days. It starts on the eve of the first new moon and ends with the famous lantern festival. We’ll now cover the traditions and some exciting highlights.
Major celebrations require preparation, and this is no different in Asia. The house must be thoroughly cleaned, so that any bad fortune is cleared away. This ensures that the house can be filled with fortune and good luck in the coming year.
Houses and streets get decorated too. Red lanterns are hung up and the colour red can be seen everywhere, thus driving away the monster Nian and symbolising happiness in China. That’s what everyone wishes for in the New Year, after all.
Don’t forget to bring red clothes! As you can tell, this lucky colour has a very important meaning for the New Year.
Feasting with the family
The evening before the Lunar New Year is similar to Christmas in many western countries – whole families get together to enjoy a big meal and spend time with each other. The Chinese “New Year’s Eve” is primarily a family celebration and is rarely celebrated with friends.
The meal families share together is often referred to as a “reunion meal”, as it can bring together family members who haven’t seen each other in a long time, making it that much more important.
There’s always a lucky dish on the menu: fish. It’s accompanied by certain dumplings which symbolise the unity of the family. Sticky rice cake is also a traditional dish at the feast.
At midnight, fireworks and loud music chase away all evil. Another custom is to open the windows in the house. This is how good luck can find its way into people’s homes and settle there.
New Year gifts
Yes, gifts are exchanged to celebrate the Lunar New Year! But not just any gifts – the traditional gift is a red envelope, which usually contains money. If you want to give something else away, sweets or tea can also work. But remember to gift wrap them in red!
Lion and dragon dances
Lion and dragon dances are part of many large festivals in China. As such, this tradition is also an important part of the Lunar New Year. The unique costumes symbolise colourful and joyful times. People dance in costumes and are accompanied by drums. Whether you dance yourself or just want to watch, it’s sure to put you in a good mood and be a great start to the New Year!
The Lantern Festival draws the New Year festivities to a close after two weeks of celebrations. There are lanterns everywhere, in various shapes and colours. They’re also decorated with different pictures. Many of them show the sign of the zodiac for the new year, for example.
Be sure to look out for the riddles too: it’s a custom to put riddles on lanterns. If you solve them correctly, you might even get a gift! They’re definitely lots of fun.
There are also some things you should avoid for the Lunar New Year – this is a part of the tradition. You don’t want a bad start to the year, do you? It’s very important not to sweep on New Year’s Day. Otherwise, you’ll sweep away all the good luck you’ve received.
Washing is also taboo: if you wash your clothes or hair, you also wash away your luck. There’s also a rule for eating – you can’t have rice pudding for breakfast. This is the only way to make your new year successful. Break these rules and you may end up having a bad year instead of a lucky one.
Top Destinations for the Lunar New Year
Do you definitely want to be in Asia for the Lunar New Year? No problem! There are celebrations in plenty of big cities. But the best place for the Lunar New Year is, of course, China.
You can still have the experience in countries like Indonesia and Singapore, and there are even opportunities in Europe! In Dublin, for example, there is the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival. But for now, we’re going to show you three of the best destinations for Lunar New Year in China.
Beijing turns into a colourful entertainment centre for the Lunar New Year. Make sure you visit a temple fair in Beijing – you’ll be right in the midst of the festivities.
Visiting temple fairs is a very traditional activity for Lunar New Year. The Ditan Park Temple Fair is a perfect example. From dance performances, parades, and exhibitions to fantastic culinary offerings, you’ll be entertained and well-fed.
In Hong Kong too, there are all kinds of events at the beginning of the year. A particular highlight is the night parade at the Tsim Sha Tsui cultural centre – this brings in the new year. People dress up to match the new sign of the zodiac and are accompanied by luminous floats.
Another attraction is the fireworks display over Victoria Harbour. Since this is the only fireworks display here, you shouldn’t miss it!
Hong Kong also traditionally hosts horse races and light shows. Visits to temples and markets are also popular during the Lunar New Year. There are also numerous New Year events at Hong Kong Disneyland. As you can see, there’s plenty of entertainment!
In keeping with the Spring Festival, the Chinese city of Guangzhou impresses with its flower markets. Many of the plants symbolise prosperity and luck, which is why Guangzhou is a popular destination for the Lunar New Year.
Lion and dragon dances also take place here. Guangzhou is also an ideal place to end the New Year festivities: there’s a spectacular lantern festival in Yuexiu Park.
Loud and colourful – this is how the Lunar New Year is celebrated. Spending valuable time with your family is a top priority. And travellers can experience the different customs and immerse themselves in a new culture.
Colourful light shows, lion dances, and lantern festivals are waiting for you. The beginning of the year is definitely unique. And the best part is that you’ll get lots of good luck for the new year! So go and experience the Lunar New Year up close, and you’ll be set for a happy and successful year!