February 12, Lunar New Year’s Day, marks the beginning of the first new moon in the Lunar year calendar, and the heartfelt celebrations can be seen throughout Chinese culture- amongst various others.
In an interview with the Signal Tribune on Thursday, Feb. 11, Dr. Peter Wong, a professor in the Asian and Asian American Studies department at Long Beach State University, discussed the traditions and significance behind the Lunar New Year holiday.
For those who celebrate, Lunar New Year signifies a new beginning and time to gather with family. It is a time to share wishes of prosperity in all aspects of life, such as health, family and wealth.
There are many traditions shared on the Lunar New Year holiday that stem from different cultures that may be specific to a particular region or village. Within these traditions, there are symbolic meanings that represent what a family wishes to encounter in the upcoming year.
Some examples include wearing new clothes on Lunar New Year Day to symbolize engaging in a fresh new start, exchanging red envelopes with crisp new bills to represent prosperity of wealth and the foregoing of washing your hair to prevent “washing away your luck.”
Another example would be the types of food chosen for the traditional family food gathering. Noodles, for instance, symbolize longevity, and mandarin oranges symbolize good fortune.
Although sometimes referred to as “Chinese New Year” in reference to its country of origin, and on occasion to differentiate it from the Gregorian calendar New Year holiday, the Lunar New Year is a celebration shared by Vietnamese, Tibetan, Korean and various other Asian cultures where their unique traditions and differences are recognized.
“You know the thing about culture is, cultures are permeable, they go back and forth. They’re not just static,” Dr. Wong said, regarding the various ways the holiday has been celebrated over the years.
Based on the Lunisolar calendar where months are established on the cycles of the moon and sun, the Lunar calendar follows a 12-year rotation, where each year is represented by a different zodiac animal. This year, 2021 is represented by the Ox, an animal that symbolizes strength, patience, and movement.
“I think this is actually appropriate to our 2021 versus 2020 event. An ox signifies movement, slow steady movement, ” Dr. Wong said. “So hopefully that ox’s movement will signify that the world becomes less static, meaning away from what we were last year. And to start moving [towards] something new, something, you know, into the upcoming year but at a slow steady pace.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, holiday traditions have shifted to adhere to social-distancing restrictions. Dr. Wong has seen the difference firsthand in a community in the San Gabriel Valley.
“Normally today, New Year’s Eve, going into any sort of ethnic enclave, it would be bustling with folks getting together and buying food to prepare for, you know, the New Year meal which is tonight and then of course New Years Day tomorrow.”
The changes brought upon by the pandemic have resulted in those who celebrate Lunar New Year needing to adjust.
“It was very different from years past, it’s just not as many people out shopping and having big family gatherings, which is probably a good thing for COVID.”
As distanced celebrations and traditions continue in honor of the Lunar New Year, may the Ox reign in a slow, steady, focused pace toward a year of fortune and prosperity during this 2021 year.
“Maybe that’s what we need in terms of bringing our world back to a sense of normality. Slow, steady, doing the right things, and keep moving forward. I thought that was probably an auspicious sign.”
The Signal Tribune staff wishes a safe Happy Lunar New Year to all of its readers who celebrate.
First published in the Signal Tribune.