What is Lunar New Year and how is it different from Chinese New Year?

ByPamela Parker KGO logo
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
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SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is based on cycles of the moon and falls on a different day every year. It marks the start of a new lunar calendar and it is a celebration of the arrival of spring. It is known to Asian communities around the world by different names, the most commonly used being Chinese New Year or Chinese "Chunjie," largely by the Chinese diaspora around the world. Other names include Vietnamese Tet, Korean Solnal and Tibetan Losar.

Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinese culture typically go for 15 days, culminating in a lantern festival on the final day.

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The Year of the Rabbit for 2023 will be the first Lunar New Year celebrated in California as an official state holiday. It's the first time anywhere in the U.S. this has been done for the Asian community, an act by California to show its solidarity with the Asian American community through the wave of anti-Asian hate and violence that grew after the COVID-10 pandemic.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill declaring Lunar New Year as a state holiday. In his signing message, he wrote that this act, "... acknowledges the diversity and cultural significance Asian Americans bring to California and provides an opportunity for all Californians to participate in the significance of the Lunar New Year."

How it is celebrated

Spring cleaning is a common practice of those celebrating the season. Gearing up to usher in good luck and welcome good fortune for the year is seen as an important practice before the new year arrives.

Staying up late to ring in the new year, much like it is done in American culture is also common. However, fireworks and firecrackers, along with lion and dragon dances, are all thought to be additional elements to ward off evil spirits and frighten bad luck away.

Gifting red packets filled with crisp dollar bills to children and the elderly is another important hallmark of the season. The red packets symbolize good luck, the dollar bills have to make up a round, even number and the act of giving and receiving one signals an exchange of a blessing.

"Lucky food"

Dottie Li, cross-cultural expert and Voice and Voice Coach of Rosetta Stone's Mandarin products, explains, "There are some items that are must-haves such as fish, tofu, bok choy and of course, noodle soup - a traditional meal of choice. The noodles are believed to bring good luck, the fish rhymes with having leftovers, the bok choy and tofu symbolize peace and protection."

Depending on the region and country, other food are staples such as sweet glutinous rice cakes (nian gao), sticky rice balls (tang yuan) and tik ko ladoo, a crispy ball of sesame seeds and toffee.

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Family visits and meet ups with friends, much like the American Thanksgiving, are central to the Lunar New Year.

Chinese people greet one another with auspicious sayings and phrases to wish each other health, wealth, and good fortune when they meet during this period.

Traditional greetings include:

  • Gong Xi Fa Cai: may great wealth and affluence be with you.
  • Chu Ru Ping An: travel safe in and out of your house.
  • Bu Bu Gao Sheng: may you be promoted every step of the way. May you continually grow and elevate.

May you have a prosperous and healthy Lunar New Year!