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.
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?