What is Lunar New Year, and when does it start?

The Year of the Rabbit is here.

The 2023 Lunar New Year falls on Sunday, which is when some Asian communities celebrate the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar.

It’s the most important holiday in China, which is why the Chinese government is anticipating more than 2.1 billion journeys to be made now that the country has lifted its stringent COVID-era restrictions on travel and movement. The new year celebrations traditionally include parades, fireworks and families gathering to enjoy elaborate dinners and delicious pastries.

For those unfamiliar with the holiday, here is what you need to know about the Lunar New Year:

What is the Lunar New Year?

The Lunar New Year is the start of the lunar calendar, also known as the lunisolar calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon. It’s also commonly known as the Spring Festival in China, the National Museum of Asian Art explains, which is observed with a 15-day celebration marked by many traditions

When is the Lunar New Year?

The 2023 Lunar New Year begins on Sunday, Jan. 22. Unlike the one or two-day new year celebrations for the Gregorian calendar used in the U.S., the Lunar New Year typically features 15 days of festivities.

And because the date is based on moon cycles, the Lunar New Year falls on different days each year. But the holiday usually falls sometime between late January and mid-February.

Who celebrates Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is celebrated in countries including but not limited to China, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, as well as countries with a significant Chinese population.

How do people celebrate the Lunar New Year?

Celebratory customs vary based on country and culture, but may include large feasts, deep cleaning of the living spaces to get rid of negative spiritual energy, as well as other rituals and festivals that hope to manifest good health, wealth and good fortune in the new year. And because the colors red and gold symbolize good fortune in many Asian cultures, people wear red and decorate their homes with red paper cuttings. Gifts of money are often given in ornate red envelopes.

Popular foods associated with the holiday include a sweet rice called nian gao, sesame balls, almond cookies and candied lotus seeds.

Two new year gift boxes of traditional new year pastries at a bakery in Beijing, China


AP

Certain days are marked with special events. For example, the fifth day of the Lunar New Year is designated as the birth date of the Chinese god of wealth. So, some people make dumplings that resemble the shape of Chinese gold ingots (an ancient form of money). Revelers shoot lots of fireworks and light firecrackers that day. And the 15th and final day of the holiday is the Lantern Festival, when children carry lanterns around the neighborhood at night to mark the end of the celebration.

Is Lunar New Year a holiday in the U.S.?

The Lunar New Year is not a federal holiday in the U.S., but it is a public holiday in many other countries.

In some large U.S. cities like New York and Philadelphia, however, it is a school holiday. It will also be an official statewide holiday in California in 2023, which is the state with the largest Asian-American population in the country.

Is 2023 the year of the cat, or year of the rabbit?

Many cultures and/or countries assign have an animal assigned for the year based on a 12-year zodiac cycle, according to History.com. China, for example, will welcome 2023 as the Year of the Rabbit, while Vietnam is poised to celebrate the Year of the Cat, and the Malay zodiac is welcoming the Year of the Mousedeer.

It should also be noted, of course, that many Asian American and Pacific Islanders do not follow the Chinese or lunar zodiac.

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