Chinese New Year: a brief overview

WYOMING — This year, the Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 12, 2021. Countries in Asia that celebrate the Lunar New Year include China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In Korea, Lunar New Year is called Seollal; in Vietnam, Tet; and in Tibet, Losar. Also known as the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, it is the most important holiday in China.

In the past, the University of Wyoming Chinese Student and Scholar Association has hosted a Chinese New Year celebration but events have been canceled this year because of COVID-19. Wyoming Public Radio’s Naina Rao interviewed students at the University of Wyoming about their experiences.

Chinese New Year

The exact origin is unknown but historians date the first Chinese New Year back some 3,500 years ago.  During the Shang Dynasty, people held sacrificial ceremonies in honor of gods and ancestors at the beginning of the end of each year. The date of the festival, the first day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar, was fixed during the Han Dynasty.

group of people standing near stage
Photo: Lalitphat Phunchuang

In the Wei and Jin dynasties, apart from worshiping gods and ancestors, the celebrations shifted toward entertainment. The customs of a family getting together to clean their house, having dinner, and staying up late on New Year’s Eve originated among common people and is still apart of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.

In 1912, the Chinese government abolished the Chinese New Year and the lunar calendar, adopting the Gregorian calendar. The official start of the new year was moved to January 1.  

In 1949, the Chinese New Year was renamed the Spring Festival and became a national holiday. According to National Geographic, Chinese New Year is “the largest annual human migration in the entire world.” China holds 1.4 billion people or 18.4 percent of the world’s total population. Every year, nearly three billion people travel across the country, returning to their hometowns.

During the Chinese New Year celebrations, people can be seen wearing red, which represents prosperity, happiness, and luck, protecting those who wear red from misfortune and the unknowns of the new year.

Marked by the new moon, the festivities last about 15 days until the full moon, which is celebrated with the Festival of Lanterns. 

A new moon occurs when the moon is on the same side of Earth as the sun. New moons cross the sky with the sun during the day, and the moon’s shadow side is pointed toward Earth. A new moon is visible only during a solar eclipse.

Festival of Lanterns

The full moon will fall on Feb. 26 or Feb. 27,  this month and is also the date of the Festival of Lanterns, marking the end of the Chinese New Year period. 

people in red and brown traditional dress walking on street during daytime
Dancers perform to ward off evil and pray for good fortune in the new year. Photo: Dyana Wing So

At the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Emperor Hanmingdi was an advocate of Buddhism. He heard that some monks lit lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. He ordered that all temples, households, and royal palaces should light lanterns for the full moon. The custom evolved into the festival celebrated to this day of lighting and appreciating lanterns, decorated in traditional Chinese symbols and imagery. The lantern festival holds cultural, spiritual, and historical significance.

Dancers perform the traditional lion and dragon dances during the festival, to ward off evil and pray for good fortune and safety. In Chinese culture, the lion is a symbol of bravery and strength and was thought to drive away evil and protect people and their livestock. 

The year of the Ox

2021 is the year of the Ox. The Chinese calendar is based on a 12-year solar and lunar cycle, with each year being represented by a different animal in the Chinese zodiac. 

The year of the Ox has fallen on the years, 1925, 1937, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021. Traits that are attributed to people born in the year of the ox are, patient, persistent, leaders orderly, cheerful, good speakers, somewhat stubborn, easily angered, mentally alert, and cautious when dealing with people.

When people’s birth year zodiac aligns with the Chinese zodiac cycle it is believed that the year might be challenging or unlucky for them and might focus on warding off bad luck during the festivities. 

Chinese astrologers warn that the year might be challenging for someone during years that match their zodiac sign. In China, many will even go so far as to wear red each day of the year to help ward off bad luck.

About The Author

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.

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