Most people have heard of the Lunar New Year, but not many know the symbolism and history. People have been celebrating the festival for a long time. It’s not entirely known when the celebration of the Lunar New Year began, but its origins can be traced back to about 3800 years ago during the Shang Dynasty.
Like most traditions in China, the Lunar New Year is packed with stories and myths. One of the most popular is the mythical legend called Nian; a beast described to have rows of sharp teeth and long horns. (Fun fact: The word ‘Nian’ is also the pronunciation of ‘year’ in Chinese.)
Lion Dance Costume by leeyiutung, 123RF.
If you’re new to the culture, here are eight things you probably didn’t know about the Lunar New Year:
1. The many names of Lunar New Year
Woman holding red envelopes by insjoy, 123RF.
The Lunar New Year is celebrated by over a billion people globally, especially those with significant Chinese influences and Chinese communities. And because of that, it’s garnered many nicknames.
The massive celebration is also known as Chun Jie or Spring Festival in China, Tết Nguyên Đán in Vietnam, Eumnyeok Seollal in Korea, Losar in Tibet, Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia and more.
Traditional korean gift pack by bbtreesubmission, 123RF.
The celebration got its name because it marks the lunisolar calendars regulated by the cycles of the moon and sun, and that’s why….
2. The festival has no set date
Close up of lunar calendar 2009 by bedo, 123RF.
Unlike western holidays that fall on the same day every year because it follows the Gregorian calendar, the Lunar New Year changes every year, ranging from 21st January to 20th February. For 2022, the Lunar New Year occurs from 1st February and lasts until 15th February.
Each Lunar New Year is associated with an animal in the zodiac. In 2022, it’s the Year of the Tiger.
It’s not just the Lunar New Year that follows the lunar calendar; many Chinese festivals do too. The Winter Solstice and birthdays are still calculated according to the lunar calendar!
3. It’s a 15-day celebration
Grandmother feeding girl with man and woman watching by imagehitasia, 123RF.
The massive festival is celebrated over 15 days. But most families begin festivities on the eve of the Lunar New Year. The celebration typically starts with the annual reunion dinner full of traditional food on the eve of the Lunar New Year and ends with the Lantern Festival.
Traditionally, each of the 15-day celebrations has its significance and customs, from days specifically for visiting relatives and neighbours to a day ceremonially dedicated to gods, to a day to pray for a great planting and harvesting season for the year ahead.
Food offering by aniruto7o6, 123RF.
Over time, the traditional ways to spend each day are foregone and treated as another day for celebrating however they wish.
4. It’s the largest human migration
Passengers traveling by Shanghai Metro in China by kreangagirl, 123RF.
As if travelling during the holiday season isn’t stressful enough, sharing a 7-day holiday period during the Lunar New Year celebration in China, a country with over 1.4 billion people, sounds like a terrible time.
The most important part of the 15-day celebration is the reunion dinner on the eve of the New Year. Everyone makes their way back home from major cities to rural villages to share a meal with their family, thus creating the largest annual human migration.
Traditional reunion dinner at home on Chinese New Year’s Eve by prpicturesproduction, 123RF.
The 40-day migration period is known as Chun Yun in Mandarin, or the Spring Festival travel rush or Spring Migration in English. During this time, foreign visitors are advised not to visit the country as most shops will be closed and it won’t be easy to travel anywhere.
5. Children get red envelopes
Baby boy holds red envelope by viiwee, 123RF.
The most exciting part for children during the Lunar New Year is receiving red envelopes from married adults. It’s not just any old envelope, but red envelopes filled with a small token of money – symbolizing good luck and prosperity for the new year.
Lunar New Year red envelopes by xb100, 123RF.
Although the tradition centers around children, red envelopes can also be given to friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, or really anyone unmarried. The more significant the person is the more money inside the envelope.
Since the beginning of cryptocurrency and e-wallets, married persons can give red envelopes digitally too.
6. Other traditions andtaboos
Chinese family spring cleaning by primagefactory, 123RF.
There is a long list of do’s and don’ts during the Lunar New Year celebration. Some taboos are only said to be superstitious on the first day of the New Year. For example, it’s a big no to wash your hair and clothes on New Year’s day as it’s believed that it will wash away good luck.
Sweeping the floors and taking out the trash is also prohibited until the 5th day of the New Year. On the other hand, the days leading up to the New Year should be used to clean as much as possible to clear out the bad luck and make way for the good.
Chinese woman wearing traditional cheongsam during Chinese New Year by nopponpat, 123RF.
Some other taboos that last throughout the festival:
Breaking dishes: Bad lucks
Swearing and unlucky words: Bad luck
Wearing black or white clothes: Associated with mourning
Visiting hospitals: Brings illness
Taking medicine: Brings illness
Giving New Year blessings to someone still in bed: Brings illness
Lending or borrowing money: Leads to debt
Using scissors, knives, or sharp objects: Cutting away the road to wealth
There are still many families and individuals alike who choose to believe these superstitions or uphold them by keeping traditions alive.
7. Make some noise
Chinese Firecrackers by noneam, 123RF.
Remember the mythical story about the fierce man-eating beast, Nian? Once a year, during the winter season, Nian would emerge from under the sea or from the mountains to hunt for human flesh and animals when food was scarce.
Chinese red lantern and decorative firecrackers by lzflzf, 123RF.
Terrified of being eaten alive by the man-eating beast, villagers tried every method to scare the beast away and eventually found Nian’s weakness. One of its weaknesses was sensitivity to loud noises and fire, so villagers started lighting up firecrackers, fireworks, banging on drums to scare off the beast. After that, Nian never came back.
8. Everything in red
Lunar New Year lanterns by toa55, 123RF.
Another weakness of the man-eating beast is also the most obvious sign of the Lunar New Year season: the color red.
Every celebrating household will be decked out in the feisty, ferocious color representing fire and symbolizes happiness, vitality, good luck, success, and good fortune. The color is used in nearly every decorative item, such as lanterns and scrolls.
In the past, villagers also hung red lanterns and scrolls on their windows and doors to stop Nian from entering their homes.
Women in traditional cheongsam by maophotostocker, 123RF.
Not forgetting wearing the color red – wearing new, red clothing items during the New Year festival is preferred over other colors to attract good things for the year.
Understanding different cultures
Lunar New Year is a festival that brings out emotions in many people, especially feelings of filial piety and happiness. It’s also no surprise that it’s one of the festivals with the most marketing campaigns surrounding it.
That’s when cultural understanding comes into play – the last thing you want for your marketing campaign is to show ignorance by making cultural mistakes. Plenty of local influences play a part in Lunar New Year traditions globally; it is always best to do in-depth research on your target audience.
We hope these eight facts can help you understand the taboos to look out for when creating advertisements, the colors you should avoid, the historical references you can make, and the overall weight of the Lunar New Year celebration!
Want to learn more about the last day of the Lunar New Year, aka the Lantern Festival? Check out this article. Find out why Asian representation matters for brands here.