The History of the Chinese Lunar New Year and How to Celebrate in 2023 – Historic Prints
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The History of the Chinese Lunar New Year and How to Celebrate in 2023


The Chinese Lunar New Year falls on January 22, 2023, and remains one of the largest global celebrations as households and local communities come together for parades, fireworks, communal meals, and other revelry. The Chinese Lunar New Year has been celebrated for centuries, and the modern iterations have become iconic across China, Europe, and North America.

The iconic lanterns, which feature an oval shape and red color that is associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year, are commonly displayed across the globe during the celebration and are lit for the fifteenth day of the holiday or the Lantern Festival.

The Chinese Lunar New Year is a spring festival similar to other harvest celebrations practiced across the world,

Traditional Practices and Symbols

One of the most iconic practices of Chinese Lunar New year celebrations is the exchange of red envelopes, which typically contain money and are meant to bring prosperity for the following year. After red envelopes are opened, they are traditionally placed under pillows and slept on for seven days following the Chinese Lunar New Year. Traditionally the number 8 and even numbers are given as they are believed to be more fortunate than odd numbers.

Celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year remains one of the most essential parts of Chinese culture, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

International Celebrations

Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated in nearly every nation, and many cities in the United States hold large parades and celebrations hosted by local communities to mark the date. The San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is the oldest celebration in America and one of the largest celebrations outside of China.

The San Francisco celebration is routed on Kearny and Grant Streets which represents the lineage of Chinese immigrants that flocked to the city in the 1850s to mine gold and work on western railroads while the nation expanded. These communities remained a crucial part of the social fabric of San Francisco and remain a vibrant community to this day. The celebration attracts more than 500,000 attendants and has television viewership in the millions.

In Manhattan, Chinatown's iconic Chinese Lunar New Year parade remains the largest celebration of the holiday outside of Asia and has been declared a public holiday in New York City. The parade features fireworks on the Hudson River near the Chinese consulate as well as elaborate and iconic floats that remain one of the most popular aspects of the event.

There are also large celebrations across Europe, including in cities like London, Paris, and Amsterdam. These events bring local communities together and rival other New Year's celebrations that occur on December 31.

The Historical Significance of the Chinese Lunar New Year

The first records of celebrating the lunar new year began in the Han Dynasty from 202 BC-220 AD. The celebration retains its roots of honoring ancestors and family as well as local communities. Han Chinese established the practice of visiting acquaintances and wishing them a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

In 1980 the holiday was restored to traditional celebration dates, though it has been celebrated globally for centuries.

Historical Greetings for the Chinese Lunar New Year

One of the main themes associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year is the exchange of loud, enthusiastic greetings, including Xin nian kuai le, which means Happy New Year! Though there are several greetings that have become popular across the globe.

Traditional greetings and celebrations are exchanged among family members as well as friends and acquaintances.

Another common practice is repeating the phrase Suìsuì-píng'ān if an item is broken or damaged, which is believed to be an inauspicious start to the new year. The phrase translates to "everlasting peace year after year." This is meant to absolve the participant that damaged the item.

Traditional Food Associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year

Like many new year's celebrations, the Chinese Lunar New Year is often focused around communal meals shared by families at the most senior members' home. Traditionally a hot pot is prepared as it is a symbol of community and unity. During the Chinese Lunar New Year, this meal is commonly referred to as a reunion dinner and remains a widely celebrated custom.

Other traditional food items are dumplings, fresh fruit, noodles, spring rolls, and Tangyuan, which are sweet rice balls. Each dish served during the Chinese Lunar New Year holds special significance and represents a special theme. The thin, long wheat noodles are meant to signify longevity.

The selected fruits are traditionally oranges, tangerines, and pomelos, whose vibrant colors are representative of wealth and fullness. Another widely practiced custom is eating vegetarian on New Year's Day, which is believed to bring good luck for the following year.

The Fifteen Days of the Chinese Lunar New Year

Because of the size and geographical diversity of China, the cuisine and celebrations can vary depending on where they are being held, which leads to unique variations and traditions.

On the eighth day preceding the Chinese Lunar New Year, a traditional Laba porridge is prepared that is served as a remembrance of an ancient festival called La that occurred after the Winter Solstice. Another common tradition in the days leading up to the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year is thoroughly cleaning one's home, as it is believed that this cleanses the bad luck from the past year and allows for a promising start to the new year.

Chinese New Year's Eve

Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve usually consists of a large communal feast shared by family and friends, and the celebration is similar to Thanksgiving in the United States or Christmas dinner around the globe. Some families visit temples following the meal for collective prayers.

First Day

The first day is known as the Spring Festival and welcomes the deities of Heaven and Earth at midnight and is associated with lighting fireworks.

Second Day

The second day is referred to as the "year's beginning" and celebrates the bonds of familial relationships accompanied by exchanging money or offerings to religious idols.

Third Day

The third day takes on a more somber tone, and it is considered unlucky to have guests or visitors to one's home during this time. In rural regions, celebrants burn paper offerings over small fires made from trash.

Fourth Day

For those that celebrate all fifteen days of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the fourth day is when spring dinners occur, and normal daily activities resume, including work and school.

Fifth Day

The fifth day is the birthday of the god of wealth, and celebrants light fireworks in the belief that it will attract Guan Yu and they will be blessed with a prosperous year.

Sixth Day

Known as Horse's day, this marks another act of cleaning, and celebrants throw out garbage in an effort to remove the ghost of poverty. This act is similar to the adage "out with the old and in with the new" in western cultures.

Seventh Day

Traditionally known as Renri, the seventh day is when every resident officially grows one year older. Many Chinese Buddhists continue to observe a vegetarian diet during this period.

Eight Day

Another family dinner is held on the eighth day and celebrates the eve of the birthday of the Jade Emperor, who is considered to be the ruler of heaven. This is also typically when everyone has resumed everyday activities, and employers provide a lunch for employees to express their appreciation for them and their work in the coming year.

Ninth Day

Traditionally this is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, and Taoists offer prayers of thanks and gratitude. A traditional offering is sugarcane, and alters are made in homes to honor the gods with offerings and paper lanterns.

Tenth Day

This marks the entire nation celebrating the Jade Emperor's birthday.

Fifteenth Day

When is the Chinese Lunar New Year over? The fifteenth day marks the end of the celebrations. It is also known as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the streets carrying lanterns, many of which have traditional riddles written on them.

The fifteenth day also has romantic connotations similar to Valentine's Day in Western Culture. Single women will throw oranges with their phone number written on them into rivers for single men to recover. The sweetness of the fruit is believed to reflect romantic prospects for the coming year.

Final Remarks

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1885 Map of The People's Republic of China

Image Source: Historic Prints - 1885 Map of The People's Republic of China

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From the team at Historic Prints, "Xin nian kuai le" or "Happy New Year!"

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