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Everything you need to know to celebrate the Lunar New Year

Chinese lanterns illuminated during Lunar New Year.

For those popping the bubbly at midnight on Jan 1st, you’ve just celebrated the solar year! This is the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun, which is 365 days. The Lunar New Year is roughly based on 12 full moon cycles, and doesn’t have a fixed date.  In 2020, just as we’ve started a new decade, in lunar terms we’re also starting a new ‘earthly branch’: a new cycle of twelve years.

How is the Lunar New Year celebrated? What does that have to do with Chinese New Year? Read on for everything you need to know…

It’s a bit complicated…

So, there’s a difference between the scientific Lunar Calendar and the Chinese Lunar Calendar used to mark a new year (which is actually lunisolar). Plus, with its regional idiosyncrasies, the New Year can also be called the Chinese Chunjie, the Vietnamese Tet, Korean Solnal, Tibetan Losar and – particularly common in central China – the Spring Festival. If that blows your mind, for the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on the joys and celebrations of the Lunar New Year.

Your Chinese Zodiac sign is based upon the lunar calendar

Rather than determine your astrological sign based on the month and day you were born, in the Chinese Zodiac, you’re categorised using 12 animals. Depending on the year you are born, you’re also assigned an element – water, wood, metal (such as gold), fire, or earth. Want to know which animal you are? Think of yourself as more of a dragon than a pig? Here’s a handy guide (sorry, wood pigs: self-acceptance is the first step towards growth).


A circle with different colors and numbers on it.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, it’s the year of the metal rat!

Any 24-year-olds reading? This is YOUR year – the year of the rat! Or, the metal rat to be more precise. According to the Chinese Zodiac, you’re quick-witted, resourceful, versatile and kind, and you share these traits with a pretty famous rat pack: William Shakespeare, TS Eliot and George Washington to name a few. Not bad company.

The year of the rat is particularly special, as it marks the beginning of a new ‘earthly branch,’ the lunar equivalent of a new decade. Legend has it, the Jade Emperor held a competition for each animal in the zodiac. The rat achieved first place by performing the flute while sitting on the back of the ox, which is to be fair is a pretty impressive feat.

In fact, the Jade Emperor was so impressed that he placed the rat at the beginning of the twelve-year cycle (and the ox second, because teamwork makes the dream work).

A red and yellow lion hanging from a string.

Image source:Carl Ibale @ Unsplash

There are so many ways to celebrate…

1. It’s a time of rich cultural traditions

Lanterns, money trees, stacks of oranges, lucky envelopes, chrysanthemums, firecrackers – the Lunar New Year is all about vibrant reds, intoxicating smells and lots and lots of gold.  

2. Communities invite ancestors to the festivities

On the evening of the New Year, an altar inviting your ancestors and family members who have passed on to come back and celebrate the coming of New Year.  Traditionally, altars are piled with food and incense is lit to bring on the coming dawn of a New Lunar Year.

3. Celebrations go off with a bang

Traditionally, revellers light firecrackers in front of their homes the night before the new year, in order to scare evil spirits away before the start of the New Year. 

4. Be careful when clearing out the cobwebs

Don’t clean or clear out your home on New Year’s Day. The suspicion is that you could be sweeping out good fortune for the New Year…

5. Get ready to feast

The Lunar New Year is associated with some rich culinary cultures, so loosen up your belt as the festivities begin. Nian Gao literally translates as ‘year cake’ and is naturally most popular during the Chinese New Year celebrations. The sticky, delicious, glutinous rice cake is said to bring higher income or status to your year. In Vietnamese culture, it isn’t a Lunar New Year celebration without “banh chung” or the traditional Vietnamese rice cake filled with mung bean and pork.

Learn how to say Happy New Year!

Get practising people…

In Mandarin, the saying is:  XIN NIN KUAI LE! (sheen- neean-kwai-luh)

For Cantonese speakers, it’s “GONG HAY FAT CHOY!” (Kong-hei-fat-choi)

For Vietnamese, it’s “CHUC MUNG NAM MOI” (Chuc- Mung- Nam-Moi)


Image source:Vernon Raineil @ Unsplash

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