Ask someone who was born and raised in the United States what they think of when they think of the New Year and they’ll probably say something like parties, fireworks or alcohol. It is a night where people typically get dressed up and go out and celebrate by dancing and drinking with their friends and counting down the last few seconds of the new year. But this isn’t quite how the New Year is celebrated everywhere.
Beginning with the fact that the New Year here in the U.S. and the Chinese New Year are celebrated on different days, the Chinese New Year and New Year in the United States are very distinct holidays celebrated in very different ways. The Chinese New Year is often referred to as the Lunar New Year, as it is celebrated at the end of the lunar calendar which typically falls sometime in January or February.
Compared to the New Year celebrated by many people in the U.S. with parties and a countdown of the last few seconds to midnight of the last day of the year, the Lunar New Year is a much more family-oriented affair. It is typically celebrated with a family dinner followed by the family staying up all night playing card games, watching TV and simply enjoying each other’s company.
Oftentimes, this holiday isn’t even celebrated at home, but at some vacation destination the family has been planning and looking forward to for quite some time. As a matter of fact, during the Lunar New Year roughly one third of China’s population is traveling, whether just a couple hours car journey away or out of the country. The Lunar New Year is the time most Chinese families take their family vacations. However, no matter what one is doing- going abroad or celebrating at home, they are most likely doing it in the company of their family.
The Lunar New Year is a holiday full of traditions and symbolism. Typically, people tend to make sure to clean their homes and pay off any debts they may have prior to the start of the New Year. Gifts are also purchased as the Lunar New Years is a day of giving and receiving gifts as well. Gifts given during the Lunar New Year, and often at other events too in China such as weddings or birthdays, are given in red envelopes which represent good luck and the warding off of evil spirits.
The Chinese typically associate the color red with happiness, energy and good luck, thus giving gifts in red packages is thought to pass these things along. Flowers are also a symbol of the new year that represent new life and new beginnings, so it is very common for families to keep live flowers in their house around this time of year.
Like the New Year we are accustomed to in the United States, the Lunar New Year is a time for celebrating new beginnings. However, it is celebrated in a way that is much more family-oriented and tradition-filled than the new year we are used to. It is a time of travel, of gift-giving, and of spending time with one’s family.