The Lunar New Year celebration is a festival unlike any other. Also known as the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival, this celebration does not hold a specific date, rather it is based on the lunar calendar. The 12th lunar month marks the end of the previous year, with the capstone Lantern Festival landing in late January to mid-February.
Similar to Christmas in the United States, part of the Chinese New Year celebration promotes retail consumption and mass domestic tourism. It is estimated that this vast festival brings in the equivalent of nearly 80 billion US dollars. The travel surrounding the holiday is considered to be the largest annual human migration in the whole world, with nearly 3 billion people travel around the country, most returning to their hometowns.
The lunar new year celebrations happen in phases.
February 4th-11th: Little Year
The first phase, lasting for 8 days, is called the Little Year. This is the time of preparation – cleaning, sweeping, and overall out with the old and fresh start mentality. In traditional and contemporary Chinese culture the color red represents happiness and prosperity. Red is considered to be a lucky color. The belief is that by surrounding yourself and your home with elaborate red decorations good luck will follow you into the new year.
February 11th: New Year’s Eve
New Year’s eve is aligned with the new moon. Families come together for a reunion dinner, many traveling long distances to return home. This dinner consists of traditional symbolically lucky meals, and of course Chinese dumplings. From 8:00 pm-12:30 am TV sets in family rooms will be set to CCTV’s New Year Gala for a 4.5-hour live presentation of games, songs, dances, martial art exhibitions, sketches, music, acrobatics, drama, and more.
February 12th-26th: Spring & Lantern Festival
Following the previous night’s new years eve celebrations, this marks the beginning of the Spring Festival. Fireworks are loud and often set off on the ground in an effort to fend off evil spirits. Respect is paid to ancestors in the form of shrines and offerings. Both kids and unmarried adults receive money in lavish red envelopes from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The first full moon marks the last day of the Spring Festival. On that last day, this year February 26th, is traditionally China’s most important festival: the Lantern Festival. These celebrations welcome Spring and symbolize the reunification of the family bond. The daytime is filled with folk dancing in the streets, food vendors selling tangyuan (ball-shaped sticky rice dumplings), music, art exhibitions, riddles, and more. As evening falls onlookers enjoy watching extravagantly crafted lanterns float into the night sky under the first full moon of the year.
One of the most phenomenal things about this holiday is the vast number of people and cultures coming together in the same traditions to welcome the new lunar year. It is estimated that 20% of the world’s population take part in celebrating this Spring Festival. This group of people is far from only Chinese citizens, large populations in Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet have also traditionally taken part in this holiday. There are many small variations of this celebration, however, the underlying traditions remain the same. It’s easy to imagine that with modern technology, and the advent of social media, this colorful new year’s celebration will be around for many more thousands of years to come.