Happy New Lunar Year

Happy New Lunar Year. Welcome to the Year of the Dragon.
A few days ago, millions of people around the world celebrated the beginning of the Lunar New Year. To some it’s known as Chinese New Year,  in Vietnam Tet, and in Korea, Seollal. There are other names in other cultures and my apologies if I’ve missed yours out. I also apologize for generalizing about the traditions followed. In China, it’s also known as the Spring Festival, the name introduced in 1914 by the republican government. 

For those who celebrate it, the Lunar New Year is a fresh start. In the days leading up to it, houses are cleaned from top to bottom to make way for good luck to come. Windows and doors might be decorated with red paper cutouts and lucky tokens, red being regarded as a lucky color. New clothes are purchased to be worn in the new year and small red envelopes containing money will be given. (Photo by Maud Beauregard on Unsplash)

Celebrations traditionally start on the eve of the first new moon between the 21st January and 20th February, often with a big dinner with special foods, auspicious dishes and dumplings. It’s very much a family affair, where ancestors and the elderly members of the family are honored. In the days following, people will visit relatives and friends, often exchanging gifts.

One of the things I most enjoy is the annual parade, with a Chinese Dragon (also known as the Lion Dance) and fireworks and crackers going off in all directions. (Photo by Dyana Wing So on Unsplash)

Celebrations will continue until 15th day of the new year, during the full moon, when the wonderful Lantern Festival takes place.

I grew up calling it the Chinese New Year because there has been a tradition of celebration and Chinese dragon parades here in Australia dating back to the 19th century, starting in the Gold Rush towns, where there were large Chinese populations.

In the state of Victoria, where I live, there was a very impressive Chinese procession in the town of Beechworth in 1874 — This engraving was in the local newspaper of the day. Looks magnificent, doesn’t it?

The city of Ballarat (also in Victoria) has one of the oldest surviving Chinese Dragons around. It was purchased in 1897, and paraded each year until the 1960’s, when it was retired to a museum and a new dragon purchased. Usually the dragons are ritually burned when they come to the end of their lives, but quite a few have been preserved, for which we’re very grateful. The festivals also became philanthropic fundraisers for the wider community.  If you want to know more about the history of the celebration in Australia, and see some wonderful old photos of historical festivities and Chinese dragons, there’s a good article here.

There’s always a big celebration in Melbourne for the Lunar New Year. When I was in high school, my friends and I often used to meet up at one of the many Chinese restaurants in central Melbourne’s “Chinatown” to celebrate two friends’ end of January/early February birthdays. On several occasions the Dragon/Lion Dance entered the restaurant and cavorted around our table, much to our delight. And when my parents lived in Malaysia, I was lucky enough to be there for Chinese New Year and be part of the big, noisy, exuberant, fun celebrations. (Photo by wu yi on Unsplash)

I have another, quite personal reason for celebrating Chinese New Year — two years ago, I bought my new house on Chinese New Year, 2022, and it had been the luckiest purchase for me. Ever since, I have displayed a little Chinese good luck token hanging on the front door, which is painted red, (though not by me) a lucky color. That’s it, on the right.

What about you? Have you ever celebrated the Lunar New Year? Is there a big Chinese or Vietnamese or other culture’s celebration of it where you live? Which part do you think you’d enjoy most — the food, the  fireworks, the Lion Dance/parade or the Lantern Festival?

14 thoughts on “Happy New Lunar Year”

  1. Anne, I would love to see a Lion Dance! I put one in a book, but there were none where I grew up. Just as there are harvest festivals in many cultures, there are ‘welcome spring and renewal holidays’ in many culture. The Chinese version looks especially joyfu.

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    • Mary Jo, they’re fabulous to watch. I think part of the appeal is that the many “feet” of the lion/dragon are young men, who are quite exuberant and active, and they’re urged on by the attention of the crowd.
      And yes, I smile at the Chinese pre-New Year activity of scrubbing the house from top to bottom and tossing out old clothes, etc, and think ah, Spring Cleaning. Only it’s not spring where I live, nor is it in many other countries in south-east Asia, where they celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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  2. I have a picture of the kitchen god in my kitchen. It was so hard to find him that I framed it, although the tradition is to burn it so that he can report about your household to the heavens. He is magnificent!

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  3. Thanks for your fun piece, Anne; wow, two years already in your new home!
    My daughter has been living in South Korea for ten years so has celebrated the lunar new year a number of times. She gives and receives a number of gifts. She lives above her landlord/landlady, an older couple, and always gives them a gift of some kind. In return, they give her a wide variety of holiday dishes. I suspect that her favorite thing though is the rare four or five day weekend which she truly celebrates as she generally works six days a week.

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    • Thanks, Linnea — and yes, 2 years since I bought the new house. I moved in in May though, so that’s given me a deadline to attack some (all?) of the many boxes that remain unpacked. It’s hard, though, because they’re mostly books, and I need to cull.

      Your daughter’s life sounds so interesting. I don’t know a lot about Koreans and their customs. We don’t seem to have a big Korean community here, though we do have some excellent Koran restaurants. And yes, that long weekend must be a wonderful bonus for her. I wonder if it’s so that families can travel to be together for new year’s eve. Or just so that various traditional rituals can take place.

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      • Anne – I have a friend whose career has required moving many times. She says her rule is: one year to hang curtains; 2 years to hang art; 3 years to arrange books! You have lots of time left!

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        • LOL Constance. I didn’t need curtains, there are very good blinds on all the windows. Art was one of the first things I hung. I have a lot of framed artworks and I used all the hooks that were already in the walls. I only put one hook in so I could have matching pictures on either side of a doorway. A tall friend helped me to hang them all, and once it was done the house immediately started to feel like mine. I still need to decide on what art to hang in the guest room, where there were no hooks in the wall. But the room is all set up for guests. That was another priority.
          But the books . . . yeah. 3 years, eh?

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  4. I missed the memo about cleaning – how sad never mind 🙂 – but would be happy to celebrate with some lovely Chinese food! I was in London’s Chinatown recently and love the decorations. That colour red gorgeous!

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    • Thanks, Christina, yes our Melbourne Chinatown looks wonderful, too. I’m lucky also in that we have quite a few good Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in my local area.
      And the previous co-owner of my house was Chinese, so I’m thinking the front door was painted red to ensure good luck. It did, I think, for them and for me.

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  5. The photographs you included are as exciting as your post, Anne! We used to go to Boston for the big Chinese New Year parade each year – there was always a lion dance, and sometimes 2 at the same time, which I found confusing because it looked as if they were supposedly fighting? Residents in Chinatown would hang double strings of tiny firecrackers from 2nd and 3rd floor balconies – the noise was deafening, and by late afternoon, the streets were covered with the paper detritus from the explosions. We would eat red bean buns and dumplings, and always brought home a roasted duck chosen from the dozens hanging in a particular shop window. Thanks for bringing back some lovely memories!

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    • Thanks, Constance, I think they sometimes do indulge in a mock fight — I’m not sure why. There will be a reason, but I don’t know it.
      And yes, those firecrackers, so loud, and the smell and smoke of the gunpowder, and then thousands of shreds of red paper everywhere. I must confess I love it.
      I’m lucky in that there are several Chinese restaurants in my local area that have roasted ducks hanging in the window. I always buy one when a Chinese-duck-loving friend from the country visits. They also do roast pork and Chinese barbecued pork, which I love too.

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