WYOMING — Today, Jan. 22 marks the 2023 Lunar New Year or the beginning of the lunar calendar. The lunar New Year also marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year which is a 16-day celebration, with the first seven considered a public holiday.

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.

Chinese New Year

In the past, the University of Wyoming Chinese Student and Scholar Association has hosted a Chinese New Year celebration. Wyoming Public Radio’s Naina Rao interviewed students at the University of Wyoming about their experiences.

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.

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 a part 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 Jan. 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 celebration, 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 16 days until the full moon, which is celebrated with the Festival of Lanterns. This year the Chinese New Year ends on Feb. 1 and the Lantern festival will be held Feb. 5.

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 Festival of Lanterns falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar year and the first full moon of the year. This year the full moon and Festival of Lanterns is on Feb. 5.

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 Rabbit

2023 is the year of the Rabbit. The Chinese calendar is on a 12-year cycle, with each year linked to one of a dozen animals — the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Chinese New Year marks the transition of these zodiac signs.

In Chinese culture, the rabbit is attributed to a legend, similar to western stories about “the tortoise and the hare.” According to Chinese legend, one day, the Jade Emperor said the zodiac order would be decided by the order in which the animals arrived at his party. Rabbit set off early and was full of arrogance about his speed. With no other animals in sight, the rabbit went off and napped. When he woke up, three other animals had already arrived, including the Ox, who the rabbit once made fun of for being slow.

The rabbit is associated with the yin, the hours of 5-7 in the morning, and the earthly branch. The rabbit also represents the moon in Chinese culture.

Recent years of the rabbit include 2011, 1999,1987,1975, 1963, 1951 and 1939.

According to Chinesenewyear.net, those who were born in previous Rabbit years will be “Fan Tai Sui”, indicating a year characterized by many fluctuations in luck, when your highs are very high, but lows can be quite devastating as well. Health, wealth and safety are areas the Rabbit needs to keep a careful eye over but Rabbit’s career should see a dramatic boost with the timely help of one or more fated mentors.

“This should be a year full of excitement, prosperity and surprise in both directions—anything but boring for dear Rabbit.”