The Significance of Lunar New Year, Plus How to Celebrate It

Welcome the year of the rabbit in style.

Dragon lantern decoration during the Chinese new year
Photo: Sunphol Sorakul/Getty Images

People around the world count down to midnight and yell 'Happy New Year' on December 31, but the celebrations don't end there. Even after we've officially welcomed a new calendar year, the Lunar New Year calls for another celebration.

You may have heard the holiday referred to as the Chinese New Year, and the Lunar New Year is the same thing—but the term is more inclusive. The Chinese New Year specifically applies to Chinese people and celebrations held in China. But because the same holiday is celebrated in many different countries, it's more inclusive to use the term Lunar New Year, so you don't exclude any populations who participate.

This year, prepare for the holiday by learning more about the Lunar New Year and plan a celebration for your own friends and family.

Dragon lantern decoration during the Chinese new year
Sunphol Sorakul/Getty Images

When Is the Lunar New Year?

The Lunar New Year is a 15-day celebration that begins on the evening of the first new moon that falls between January 21 and February 20. This year, the Lunar New Year falls on Sunday January 22, 2023.

What Is the Lunar New Year?

The history of the Lunar New Year dates back to a legend that is thousands of years old. The legend goes that at the beginning of each new year, a monster would attack villagers. But the monster was afraid of loud noises, bright lights, and anything in the color red, so the villagers would host loud celebrations and wear red to scare the monster away.

Today, lights, parties, and traditional red decorations are used to celebrate the holiday, as it is believed this brings luck and prosperity in the new year.

The holiday is referred to as the Lunar New Year because the date is determined by the lunisolar calendar (a calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and the sun) traditionally followed in east Asian countries. Just like much of the world celebrates the beginning of a new calendar year on January 1, those who celebrate the Lunar New Year welcome the beginning of the new lunisolar year.

What Is the Significance of Animals in the Lunar New Year?

2023 is the year of the rabbit, the fourth year in the 12 year cycle of Chinese Zodiac animals—but what does that mean? There are twelve zodiac signs associated with the Lunar New Year, and each one has a different meaning. For example, anyone born during the year of the rabbit is said to be calm, compassionate, and live a life free from constraint.

The animal signs rotate each new year in this order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Since 2022 was the year of the tiger, 2023 is the year of the rabbit, and 2024 will be the year of the dragon.

The twelve signs are said to alternate in a yin and yang sequence, depending on whether the animal has an odd or even number of claws, hooves, or feet. If you're curious to know what your Chinese zodiac sign is, you can find it here.

How to Celebrate the Lunar New Year at Home

Traditionally, the Lunar New Year is celebrated with fireworks, feasts, and large crowds. If your community doesn't hold a large gathering, you can still host a party at home with family and friends.

Hand Out Red Envelopes

It's tradition to hand out red envelopes of money to young people during a Lunar New Year celebration. If you're celebrating at home, fill red envelopes full of dollar bills or vouchers for fun activities and hand them out to your kids throughout the day.

Hang Lanterns

Because bright lights were said to scare off the monster in the original legend, fireworks and lanterns are typically used in the celebrations. This year, spare your neighbors the loud booms and opt for hanging red paper lanterns instead.

Make a Traditional Recipe

The Lunar New Year is all about celebrating luck and good fortune in the year to come, so spend the day making a delicious meal from foods that are considered lucky. From donuts to fish to lentils, these 12 lucky foods will help you ring in a tasty new year.

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