Although much of the world celebrated the coming of 2019 about a month ago, the new year has yet to begin in China. The Lunar New Year is right around the corner. This holiday is also known as Chinese New Year and The Spring Festival. It is the biggest and most important public holiday in China, with festivities taking place over the course of two weeks. Chinese holidays are deeply rooted in the nation’s culture and tradition, so the majority of citizens and families take advantage of the holiday break during the Spring Festival. Here’s what you need to know.
When is The Lunar New Year? How long is the holiday?
The actual day of The Lunar New Year varies year to year. It is determined by astronomical phenomena, typically taking place on the second new moon after the occurrence of the winter solstice. Based on the Gregorian calendar, this means The Lunar New Year can happen anytime between January 21 and February 20. For 2019, the holiday falls on February 5 and marks the beginning of the year of the pig.
Unlike traditional western celebrations for the new year, The Lunar New Year isn’t just a day or two—it’s a festival that is honored for a week. The official holiday period in China is from February 4 to February 10 but schools give at least a month off for students, starting as early as January 17th for some major cities. Preparations for the festival also begin around mid-January. Finally, all Lunar New Year celebrations wrap up on February 19 with the Lantern Festival. This makes The Lunar New Year a month-long period of celebration.
What usually happens during The Lunar New Year?
There’s a lot that takes place during the biggest Chinese holiday of the year and many of the practices are steeped in custom with a dash of superstition.
From the middle of January to the eve of The Lunar New Year, families take the time to prepare for the new year and its festivities. This includes cleaning the house to “sweep away the bad luck,” buying new clothes for loved ones as a way to symbolize a fresh start in the new year, and putting up decorations that bear meaning based on Chinese myths and folklore. Many of these gifts and decorations will be red as it’s considered a very auspicious color in Chinese culture. It’s also during this time that families start making their way homeward to wherever the big family reunion dinner is.
The reunion dinner takes place on the eve of The Lunar New Year and is considered to be the most important dinner of the year. Dinner includes the favorite dishes of family members in addition to foods with symbolic meaning, such as dumplings for wealth and noodles for longevity. The night doesn’t end after dinner! Gifts and red envelopes filled with money are then given and families stay up to welcome the new year.
The minute it hits midnight, fireworks around the country are lit up to celebrate the new year. Fireworks are an integral part of The Lunar New Year celebrations and other Chinese festivities. It is believed that fireworks frighten away bad spirits and the legend goes that fireworks are used on this day to scare the evil monster Nian from eating humans and animals. Nian is also supposed to be scared of the color red, which is why red is adorned everywhere during The Lunar New Year and is thought to be a lucky color.
For the next week, family time becomes the main focus of the holiday. After February 5th, families travel to visit relatives and friends, both near and far. Besides sharing meals together, families typically go to tourist attractions, give gifts to one another, and go shopping. The majority of businesses, government offices, and banks are closed during the week, with the exception of major malls and most restaurants. The month of February will possess a lot of transportation stress, but since this is the longest holiday of the year in China, families try to make the most of their vacation by spending quality time together with their loved ones.
Although many people in China will probably be traveling until the beginning of March, adults can start to go back to work on February 11. Offices and businesses open and resume their regular schedules. However, students still have time off from school for at least another week.
All Lunar New Year festivities end with the Lantern Festival on February 19. The Lantern Festival takes place on the first full moon of the new year and can be celebrated in public spaces or at home. Lighting up lanterns and making wishes upon them are the main activity for the festivals. Lanterns can come in many different designs, sizes, and types, from giant parade floats to traditional globe lanterns. In addition to lantern lighting, families also solve riddles attached to lanterns and eat glutinous rice balls that are symbolic of good fortune for the future.
The Lunar New Year is truly a wonderful time for children. With a lengthy break from school, children are able to relax, spend time with family and friends, eat their favorite foods, and receive gifts. They will typically not study during this time, especially with the amount of travel taken and the family time spent. Make sure to ask your students about all the activities and fun they had over The Lunar New Year!