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2021 Lunar New Year/Spring Festival

Lunar New Year Traditions

February 12, 2021

Lunar New Year typically begins with the new moon that occurs between the end of January and the end of February, and it lasts about 15 days, until the full moon arrives with the Festival of Lanterns. Though many Western nations refer to the Lunar New Year/Spring Festival holiday as Chinese New Year, bear in mind it's celebrated not just in Chinese communities all over the world but other Asian nations such as Vietnam, Singapore and South Korea. It is a popular holiday usually spent visiting and celebrating with family. Maggie Hiufu Wong, CNN Travel

It's called the Lunar New Year because it marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendars traditional to many east Asian countries including China, South Korea and Vietnam, which are regulated by the cycles of the moon and sun. As the New York Times explains, “A solar year—the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun—lasts around 365 days, while a lunar year, or 12 full cycles of the Moon, is roughly 354 days.” As with the Jewish lunisolar calendar, "a month is still defined by the moon, but an extra month is added periodically to stay close to the solar year." Therefore, the new year falls on a different day within that month-long window each year. Samantha Vincenty, Oprah Magazine

The Chinese Calendar + Zodiac

The Chinese calendar also included the Chinese zodiac, the cycle of twelve stations or “signs” along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos. Each new year was marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiac animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. 2021 is the Year of the Ox. The Ox is the second of all zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Ox was about to be the first to arrive, but Rat tricked Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox. Thus, Ox became the second animal. In Chinese culture, the Ox is a valued animal. Because of its role in agriculture, positive characteristics, such as being hardworking and honest, are attributed to it.

Family Celebrations

Countries that observe Lunar New Year often offer three to seven days of public holidays, but celebrations aren't complete until the 15th day of the first lunar month, also known as the Lantern Festival. (Lunar New Year in 2021 lasts from February 12 to February 26.) Families tend to have different sets of rules and traditions, but most will bless each other with auspicious words like "san tai gin hong" or "shen ti jian kang" to wish you good health. Maggie Hiufu Wong, CNN Travel

The main Lunar New Year activities include putting up decorations, eating reunion dinner with family on New Year's Eve, firecrackers and fireworks and giving red envelopes containing money. In many Chinese cities, from New Year's Day, traditional performances can be seen such as dragon dances, lion dances and imperial performances like an emperor's wedding. Food for the New Year emphasizes lucky symbolic meanings such as fish, which sounds like the Chinese word for surplus. These foods are eaten during the 16-day festive season, and particularly for the New Year's Eve family reunion dinner. The luckiest Chinese New Year foods (and their symbolic meanings) are: fish (an increase in prosperity), Chinese dumplings (great wealth) and Glutinous rice cake (a higher income or position). chinahighlights.com

To learn more about the Lunar New Year/ Spring Festival or ways to celebrate some resources are provided below:

You can find virtual celebrations at:

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Timothy Perkins is of Cherokee and Natchez tribal descent. Perkins has served in logistics, equal opportunity employment and education services. He serves as commissioner on the Governor's Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs and the Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, as well as on the Greater Des Moines Partnership's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, among others, and has more than 30 years of service within the military.