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


SAN FRANCISCO — The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is based on the cycles of the moon and falls on a different day each year. It marks the start of a new lunar calendar and is a celebration of the arrival of spring. It is known by various names by Asian communities around the world, the most commonly used being Chinese New Year or Chinese “Chunjie”, largely by the Chinese diaspora around the world. Other names are Vietnamese Tet, Korean Solnal and Tibetan Losar.

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

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The Year of the Rabbit for 2023 will be the first Lunar New Year to be celebrated in California as a public holiday. It is the first time anywhere in the US that 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 hatred and violence that grew after the COVID-10 pandemic.

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Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill declaring Lunar New Year a public holiday. In his signing notice, he wrote that this law, “…recognizes the diversity and cultural significance that 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 who celebrate the season. Preparing to usher in luck and happiness for the year is seen as an important habit before the new year arrives.

Staying up late to ring in the New Year, just as it is done in American culture, is also common. However, fireworks and firecrackers, along with lion and dragon dances, are all considered additional elements to ward off evil spirits and drive away bad luck.

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Gifting red packets filled with crispy dollar bills to children and the elderly is another important feature of the season. The red packets symbolize good luck, the dollar bills must form a round, even number, and giving and receiving one indicates an exchange of a blessing.

“Happy Eating”

Dottie Li, cross-cultural expert and voice and voice coach of Rosetta Stone’s Mandarin products, explains: “There are some must-have items such as fish, tofu, bok choy and of course noodle soup – a traditional meal of choice. It is believed that the noodles 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 foods are staples, such as sweet glutinous rice cakes (nian gao), glutinous rice balls (tang yuan), and tik ko ladoo, a crunchy ball of sesame seeds and toffee.

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

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

Traditional greetings include:

  • Gong Xi Fa Cai: may great wealth and wealth be with you.
  • Chu Ru Ping An: travel safely in and out of your home.
  • Bu Bu Gao Sheng: May you be promoted at every step. May you continually grow and uplift.

May you have a prosperous and healthy Lunar New Year!

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