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What You May Not Know About Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year 2021

February 11, 2021

Lunar New Year is celebrated with the waxing of the full moon so generally there is no fixed date on the annual celebration. Lunar New Year 2021 festivities kick off on Friday, February 12. The celebration can last up to 16 days, however only the first seven days are considered a public holiday (February 11th–17th, 2021) in China.

Though originated in China, this celebration is eminent among many Asian customs and for most, culturally it’s a time of celebration that brings traditions and experiences together from all over the world including the United States, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, France, United Kingdom, Australia, Burma, Korea, Philippines and more.

Fun Facts and Do’s + Don’ts

  • Over one sixth of the world’s (1.5 billion) people celebrate Lunar New Year, the largest annual holiday of the year for many Asian cultures.
  • The Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year and the Spring Festival are all related to one another, but they are technically not the same thing. The Chinese New Year is based on the Chinese lunar calendar (you can geek out on it at History.com). The lunar calendar is a calendar based on complete cycles of phases of the Moon. Basically, the Chinese New Year marks the start of a new lunar year. However, with a mix of so many cultures and multiple generations these terms are used interchangeably and are typically referred to as the same thing. To be inclusive of all that may celebrate this holiday, it is best to refer to it as Lunar New Year.
  • This Lunar New Year celebrates the year of the Ox, specifically the Metal Ox. Customarily the Ox is a valued animal because of its positive characteristics and role in agriculture but Oxen are honest, earnest and low key, never seeking praise or attention, making them logical and great leaders.
  • Reunion dinners are rituals with a big feast to commemorate the past year with many traditional dishes symbolic for good health and fortune (check out some recipes below).
  • Red envelopes full of money are known as lì xì in Vietnamese or hóngbao in Mandarin. In China, they're traditionally gifted from an elder or parent to children, or really anyone who's unmarried. The popular tradition is to give the gift of a bright, beautiful red envelope filled with crisp new money to symbolize good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. However, the importance of this tradition is more the envelope itself as red symbolizes good luck and prosperity. Although if you ask anyone receiving these envelopes, they would agree it is the excitement of how much money one can receive from friends and relatives. Consider yourself lucky if you received one, young or old, married or not.
  • Taboos and superstitions attract good luck on Lunar New Year but it can also attract bad luck. Cleaning, sweeping or throwing out garbage may eliminate all your good luck, so if you are superstitious, clean your house beforehand and do NOT wash your clothes and hair on February 12 or you will be washing away all your good luck!
  • Think red! Red clothes, red décor, red everything. This is the best color for the occasion given its association with good luck and fortune. Stay away from black and white, as they are unlucky and negative.

Given the pandemic, gatherings this year will be more intimate amongst family and friends, replacing larger public events. What can you do to support and celebrate Lunar New Year over the next few weeks? Check out your local Asian markets. They will have specific Lunar New Year goodies such as candies, cookies, pastries, dumplings, steam cakes or, at minimum, fresh meats, fruits and veggies for you to pick up. Try out one of the traditional Lunar New Year recipes below (and everywhere on the internet of course). Don’t feel like cooking? Visit your local Asian restaurants for some Lunar New Year vibe and menu specials.

Local Asian Markets

Traditional Lunar New Year Recipes

Every year during this time, families gather together to celebrate new beginnings and pay respects to their ancestors. People travel all over the world to come together, with many leaving the cities to the countryside. It remains to be seen on how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect Lunar New Year celebrations in the US, Asia and Europe this year. It’s also unclear how it will impact the 2021 travel rush, but rest assured, this beautiful tradition isn’t going anywhere, as it matters to so many people and will likely be celebrated socially distanced.

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Header image provided by Paige Peterson, 3P Studios.
Jade Song

Jade Song, Iowa Asian Alliance, is the 2021 CelebrAsian Festival chair in Greater Des Moines (DSM).