Get to know some of the traditions around Lunar New Year so you can have a great time

By Lalaine Ignao
February 9, 2018

Wherever you find Asian communities, Lunar New Year is a big deal. It is a chance to celebrate with family and friends and to have a lot of fun. This holiday is thousands of years old and has a deep history of traditions and customs. Understanding it makes the holiday just that much more enjoyable.

With the Lunar New Year just around the corner, we thought we’d share a primer on what you need to know in preparation for this great celebration. Look out for events in the International District and at Seattle Center, as well as on the streets. Most of the time, these celebrations are public and everyone is welcome to take part.

Red lanterns are used for Lunar New Year decorations.

HISTORY

The Lunar New Year is, as you may know, the based on a calendar system that is coordinated by the moon cycles. The common calendar that most of us use is based on the sun and is called the Gregorian calendar. Lunar New Year is not just one day but a whole week (even two weeks for some) of festivities. According to a Chinese legend, it began with a mythical beast with a lion head named Nian (Year) that would appear on New Year’s Eve to cause chaos and eat villagers, especially children. One year, an old man came to tame the Nian by using red lanterns and firecrackers. Once people learned that the beast feared the color red, fire and loud sounds, they posted a red Dui Lian, a Chinese scroll of poetry, in the front of their house and launched fireworks and lanterns every New Year.

Today, Lunar New Year is celebrated in various countries in Asia, including China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan to name a few.

Dragon and Lion dances are important parts of the celebration.

TRADITIONS

Just like any ancient holiday, the Lunar New Year upholds many different traditions. To follow the Chinese New Year legend, people continue to hang Dui Lian up, decorate their homes with lanterns and launch fireworks at night. Children and retirees also receive red envelopes with money inside which have a belief to bring good luck because of its red color. Many cities hold traditional performances that include dragon dances, lion dances and different imperial performances such as an emperor’s wedding.

About ten days before the beginning of the Lunar New Year, people take the time to clean their home to thoroughly remove any bad luck inside to practice the custom known as “sweeping of the grounds.” Families also take the time to participate in religious ceremonies to honor their ancestors. Many people wear cultural clothing to ensure full participation of the Lunar New Year celebration and for good luck and fortune.

Food is always plenty around New Year.

FOOD

Along with the Lunar New Year traditions, this celebration also calls for a whole list of dishes to best start off the New Year right! Many of the food dishes represent wealth and good fortune, including dumplings, whole fish, chicken, pork, longevity noodles, New Year’s cake and rice balls. The shape of dumplings resemble the block of gold the Chinese used as money in ancient times. Eating whole symbolizes wealth and the unity of a family just like eating chicken and pork. One of the most commonly eaten dish in Asian cultures, longevity noodles, represents long life. “Nian gao,” the New Year’s cake, means “sticky cake” as well as “higher year.” Finally, rice balls represent family unity.