New Years’ celebrations across the world essentially all honor the process of letting go of the current year, which is ending, to honor the beginning of a new year, a fresh start. Although this purpose may be generally universal, the details of how cultures and people celebrate a new year varies greatly across the globe.
At The Everymom, we appreciate learning—and teaching our families—about diverse cultures and traditions as part of our values rooted in the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In particular, we strive to elevate BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ voices and experiences in our articles written, stories shared, and the brands we support. As such, we stand in support of and honor our Asian American Pacific Islander community year round and not just during AAPI Heritage Month. We have curated lists of some of our favorite AAPI kids movies, AAPI kids books, and AAPI female-owned small businesses. We especially stand in solidarity in fighting against AAPI racism, which unfortunately has escalated as seen in numerous AAPI hate crimes throughout our country. We value learning from each other, respecting our differences, and celebrating what unites us all.
As part of our pillars, we invite you to learn and teach your kids about the rich cultures and traditions within the diverse AAPI community umbrella. With Lunar New Year upon us, we would like to do a deep dive into the significance of this thousands-of-years-old celebration. In this process, we will share unique ways to teach your kids about Lunar New Year and offer ideas on how to celebrate this festive holiday with your family. We hope you join us in celebrating this holiday as an extraordinary AAPI tradition showcasing the power of hope, the beauty of honoring one’s ancestors, and the importance of spending quality time with family and friends.
What is Lunar New Year?
In much of the United States, we celebrate the New Year in frigid weather with ski masks, heavy parkas, and the best quality waterproof snow boots we can find. Even after the celebration, winter is far from over. However, on the other side of the world, many Asian countries for many centuries have their New Year celebrations later in January and extend to the middle of February. According to The Washington Post, Lunar New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, “symbolizes and embodies a hopeful transition from the cold winter to the season of renewal.” Lunar New Year honors this change in seasons—the end of the freezing winter to welcome the rebirth of springtime. During this period of welcoming the new year, many traditions are observed, ancestors are honored, families are reunited, feasts are plentiful, and celebrations are epic. Lunar New Year honors the hope for good fortune, endless prosperity, and the presence of happiness for all.
Rooted in a deep history tracing back thousands of years, China Highlights explains Lunar New Year to be “the most important occasion for generations of families to reunite and spend time together. The celebration is also believed to be significant to ensure good fortune for the coming year.” Celebrated in many Asian countries, Lunar New Year is also known as Chinese Chunjie, Vietnamese Tet, Tibetan Losar, and Korean Seollal, with all celebrations commemorating the beginning of the new moon of the lunar calendar. The festivities continue for 15 days and culminate in a vibrant lantern festival lighting up the dark sky. The celebratory details of Lunar New Year may vary from country to country, but those 15 days, and a few days leading up to the New Year, are often filled with dragon and lion dances, gift exchanging, spectacular fireworks, “cleansing” rituals to bring good luck, and memorable family and friend reunions.
There are many legends associated with Lunar New Year across Asian cultures that give meaning to many of the elements of this celebration. Brittanica tells of the legend of Nian, “a hideous beast believed to feast on human flesh on New Year’s day. Because Nian feared the color red, loud noises, and fire, red paper decorations were pasted to doors, lanterns were burned all night, and firecrackers were lit to frighten the beast away.” Celebrations for Lunar New Year to honor the change in seasons and the start of the lunar calendar may vary from more intimate ones with family and friends to more dazzling public events with parades and performances.
When is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year is based on the traditional lunisolar calendar, used across many Asian countries, which determines the components of a year by using the cycles of the moon. Because of this, the dates vary every year, but it typically falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. This year, Lunar New Year starts on the new moon of the year occurring on Feb. 1, 2022. Festivities abound for two weeks and end in the glowing lantern festival—the date of the next full moon—which will be on Feb. 16, 2022.
Who Celebrates Lunar New Year?
Although you may have heard of Lunar New Year referred to as Chinese New Year, this naming does not accurately reflect the diversity of Asian countries that celebrate this tradition. Lunar New Year, a more inclusive term, is “celebrated by more than 1 billion people across the globe,” according to The Washington Post. It’s also known as “the world’s largest annual migration” because it unites many families across regions in the world. Today, Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia and also includes places with large Asian diaspora populations like San Francisco.
Lunar New Year Celebratory Elements
Every country and family honors Lunar New Year in unique ways. The diversity of these celebrations is what makes this holiday so special for many generations. The celebratory elements within Chinese New Year, for example, have been made most popular in the United States. According to National Geographic, you may have heard, “In Mandarin, they’ll say gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财), wishing you a prosperous New Year. In Cantonese, it’s gong hey fat choi. Still, if you wish someone xin nian kuai le (新年快乐), literally “happy new year,” [is] perfectly welcome, too.” It’s important to note that other Asian countries that celebrate Lunar New Year have their own beautiful ways of honoring this momentous occasion.
Nonetheless, there are some typical celebratory elements to welcome spring and the change of seasons in the new year.
To welcome the change of seasons and the coming of a new year according to the lunar calendar, many details are prepared leading up to New Year’s Eve. Families participate in “cleaning rituals,” which symbolize letting go of the old year to embrace the new one. Almanac shares, “People clean their homes and open their door[s] to let good luck enter.” Floors are swept, counters are dusted, and unwanted elements in a house are discarded to start fresh in the new year. Some families may even buy new clothes and get haircuts to completely embody the “newness” they are about to celebrate. Elaborate meals are also prepared in anticipation of festivities that will occur in the next weeks. All of these preparations must be done in advance of the actual New Year, as any “cleaning” done after that is considered bad luck.
Lunar New Year is a joyous time with many days spent with family both near and far. Britannica notes, “Traditionally, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are reserved for family celebrations, including religious ceremonies [honoring] ancestors.” Altars are meticulously prepared with religious significance to pay homage to a family’s ancestors. Because families may not live near each other, a massive migration of families across several Asian countries and around the world take the journey to reunite with their loved ones to celebrate the coming of a new lunar new year. Religious ceremonies are observed, gifts are exchanged, and elaborate meals are prepared with family at the core of any Lunar New Year gathering.
The Color Red
Red is the quintessential color of many Lunar New Year celebrations. For example, according to National Geographic, “In traditional and contemporary Chinese culture, red represents prosperity and happiness. It’s considered a lucky color, and people will wear it in celebration, and to usher in an auspicious new year and to keep away bad vibes. Jumpsuits, sweaters, trousers, scarves, socks, hats, anything is game.” The symbolism of red as representative of fortune is seen throughout other Asian countries during the Lunar New Year. Families dress in red to embrace the festivities and transform their houses to include “red” decor to bring good luck into the new year. Streets and parades are also adorned with a sea of red celebratory decor elements throughout Lunar New Year.
Food is what unites family and allows for wonderful conversations in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Every region has special Lunar New Year dishes that are meticulously prepared in anticipation of the new year. In China, they have a “reunion dinner” on New Year’s Eve when they invite extended family to a delicious dinner filled with lucky foods such as fish and dumplings. These dumplings are enjoyed at midnight to officially welcome the new lunar year. Kids Travel Guide shares that during Lunar New Year, “a popular food are long noodles that [symbolize] good fortune as well as a long life. A typical new year’s dish is Yusheng. This raw fish salad with rice or long noodles is eaten by many during the festive period.”
Good fortune is a common theme in Lunar New Year celebrations. The presence of certain foods can bring prosperity into the new year and, therefore, you will see these “lucky” elements within houses and outdoor locations during this period. Mandarin oranges, dried fruit, and even the most delicious sweets are all seen as lucky foods to include in the celebrations. Kids Travel Guide states,“Children sometimes get oranges, sweets or coins. Always make sure to give an even number of gifts or in the amount of money. So always at least two mandarins, two packets or two coins.” All of this “lucky” food makes for vibrant displays seen within Asian households along with the color red incorporated throughout.
Dragons and Lions
Dragons are a symbol of strength, power, and prosperity. Because these are all elements that are representative of the welcoming of Lunar New Year, dragons are displayed in many of the celebrations during this time. The Dragon Dance Parade is a spectacular performance to witness where “a cloth dragon is held on poles by a team of a dozen or more members who make the dragon “dance” by raising and lowering the poles.” The Lion Dance is also incorporated into this parade to welcome the new year. Two Lion Dance performers move “to the sound of drums for the first three to five days of the New Year. They dance in front of stores and businesses to scare off the evil spirits and to bring good luck to everyone.” The Dragon and Lion performances add jovial spirit to the celebration of welcoming the season of spring.
The crackling and popping of firecrackers can be heard leading up to Lunar New Year and the 15 days thereafter. It’s one of those celebratory elements that truly amps the festivities to an epic proportion. National Geographic shares that these fireworks “serve two purposes: One, they’re fun and celebratory; two, they were traditionally set off to scare away [the] dragon-lion monster Nian—who, as legend has it, would attack villagers and sometimes eat children but could be frightened off by loud noises.” In recent years, some countries have restricted more personal use of these pyrotechnics because of issues of public safety that have arisen. Instead, they embrace using fireworks for all to enjoy.
Lunar New Year is a time of celebration, reuniting with family, and fun gift-giving. Families who visit each other give gifts of good luck to welcome the new year. Little red envelopes filled with money are given to children to wish them luck and give them blessings into the new year. These red envelopes, called hongbao in Mandarin, are beautifully decorated with gold lettering and can contain any monetary amount that is believed to bring in good fortune to the receiver.
Light elements like fireworks and lanterns are important symbolic elements of Lunar New Year, as they represent the banishment of darkness while bringing in good luck for. During Lunar New Year, you will see lanterns of all shapes and sizes adorn every corner of a region, including houses, parks, temples, and stores. These bright red and gold lanterns symbolize prosperity and vitality. After New Year’s Day, the festivities continue for two weeks and end in the luminous Lantern Festival where colorful, bright lanterns illuminate the night sky.
Year of the Rabbit & The Chinese Zodiac
The lunisolar calendar is approximately one month behind ours, otherwise known as the Gregorian calendar, which means it also has about 30 to 50 more days per year. Kids World Travel Guide explains that this lunisolar calendar “was started on astronomical observations of the moon’s phases. Each year, a Chinese zodiac animal is the symbol for the year. The 12 Chinese zodiac animals are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.” In addition, this lunisolar calendar differentiates between five types of animal species within each zodiac to include the following elements: fire, earth, metal, wood, and water—which creates a 60-year cycle. Together, the individualized Zodiac signs are combined with the five elements to determine which specific Zodiac sign is celebrated each year.
2023 is the Rabbit year. The birth years for the Year of the Rabbit include 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, and 1951. According to Almanac, “Those born in the Year of the Rabbit are said to be talented at many things. They are affectionate people, often excelling at forming close relationships. However, they also appreciate tranquility and seek out peace.” Kids National Geographic further explains what the Year of the Rabbit means in terms of a child’s personality. If your child is a little Rabbit, they may prefer to figure things out on their own and stay away from fights.
How to Learn About Lunar New Year
Now that you have a basic understanding of the spectacular Lunar New Year celebrations, you can share that knowledge with your little ones. The following resources featuring lessons and books about Lunar New Year will help you feel equipped and excited to teach your little ones how to appreciate this historical tradition and join in the new year festivities.
1. Lunar New Year for Kids | Educational Video (2:19)
This is a short video by Scholastic that gives a brief overview of Lunar New Year through real-life images.
2. Fortune Tales | The Story of Lunar New Year (5:10)
This video by Panda Express TV illustrates colorful animated characters to describe this exciting holiday in a simplistic way for children to understand.
3. Chinese New Year for Kids (8:16)
For a more detailed description for your not-so-young ones, this video gives a more comprehensive description about Lunar New Year. Although it is titled Chinese New Year for Kids, the narrator does use the inclusive term, Lunar New Year, throughout the lesson.
Lessons & Activities
Once you’ve introduced to your kids the significance of Lunar New Year, if you are feeling inspired, you can progress into a deeper lesson that incorporates literacy and math components within the central theme of Lunar New Year. Below are several options depending on the developmental stage of your child. All lessons come at a nominal fee.
Suggested Age Level: Pre-K – 1st
These lessons provide fun and engaging songs that introduce the Lunar New Year concepts using the melody of popular nursery rhymes. Added bonus is that it includes poems and graphics for visual representations of key terms.
Suggested Age Level: Pre-K – K
For some more interactive activities for the preschool and kindergarten age group, this activity bundle features fine motor skills practice, literacy, and math practice—all Lunar New Year-themed.
Suggested Age Level: 2nd – 4th grade
For your children already in elementary school, this educational set contains reading passages with three different reading levels about key elements within the Lunar New Year celebration, including the legend of Nian, the Lunar Zodiac symbols, and a general overview on this tradition.
Suggested Age Level: 1st – 6th grade
Another option for elementary school-age children is this activity packet with reading passages about Lunar New Year and Lunar Zodiac. Added bonuses are the coloring pages and drawing activities.
Lunar New Year Books
Below are a variety of books for various developmental stages introducing the Lunar New Year celebration and narrative options that incorporate character development within the Lunar New Year theme.
Ways to Celebrate Lunar New Year
Now that you and your little firecrackers know a bit about Lunar New Year, you can jump right into the celebratory parts! There are many unique ways to honor this joyous tradition in small and big ways. Most importantly, Lunar New Year is an opportunity for you and your family to come together to learn about the API/AAPI culture through the lens of honoring the change in seasons and the magic of beginnings. Below are some ideas for what you can do with your family to capture the essence of Lunar New Year.
Before you decide on how you want to celebrate, here are some superstitions many Asian cultures have around this holiday season. These are just some fun elements of this celebration that your family might like to know about.
- Red is a lucky color; white in some Asian cultures can be considered unlucky and symbolize death.
- Sweeping in preparation before the new year is encouraged. However, sweeping is highly discouraged on New Year’s Day or any of the 15 days after because it can mean you are sweeping away the good luck.
- On New Year’s Eve, some people believe in leaving doors and windows open to have the bad luck removed and to help welcome good luck into your house.
- Food preparation must be done days before the new year, as any usage of knives during the new year celebrations can be seen as bad luck.
1. Discuss Lucky Traditions With Your Own Family
Once you share what customarily brings luck during Lunar New Year, you can then share what brings you luck in your own culture and traditions. This might be a fun way to discuss over the dinner table similarities and differences between cultures. For example, children may not know about references to a “black cat” or a four-leaf clover, etc.
2. Sing Lunar New Year Songs
Nothing amps the festive spirit more than music and singing. Below are some toddler-friendly Lunar New Year songs you can enjoy with your family as you gather around the fireplace.
3. Create Colorful Paper Lanterns
Lanterns are displayed throughout Lunar New Year celebrations, and decorating your house with these colorful lanterns will immediately make any space festive. Try Chalk Academy’s Easy Paper Lanterns tutorial in five easy steps, including a video tutorial. Another lovely lantern craft by TheEverCo uses just a few supplies to make beautiful and bright lanterns.
4. Read About and Discuss the Change of Seasons
Because at its core Lunar New Year is about honoring the change from winter to spring, you can take this opportunity to discuss this further with your family. You can show pictures/videos that explain how winter turns into spring or you can discuss how this cyclical period happens every year as a time of rebirth and renewal.
5. Create an Altar to Honor your Ancestors
Much like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) honors family members who have passed away, Lunar New Year also acknowledges the importance of one’s ancestors through religious ceremonies and altars constructed to remember their influence in our lives. You and your family can build your own altar to commemorate your ancestors or you can simply share stories and show pictures to remember those generations before yours.
6. Have Some Lunar New Year Sensory Bin Fun
For younger ones, sensory bins are a great way to get their hands involved in learning. Discovering Mommyhood has two sensory bin options your littles will get a kick out of exploring. Try this Toilet Paper Firecracker Sensory Bin or this Rainbow Spaghetti Sensory Bin incorporating Lunar New Year colors and textures.
7. Construct a Recycled Dragon Dancing Puppet
Dragons are everywhere during Lunar New Year, so celebrate the occasion by making your own dancing dragon. Using recycled materials, this dragon craft by Hello Wonderful is easy and colorful, and it can bring you good luck in the new year.
8. Play the Korean New Year’s Game Called Yut Nori
You and your littles might enjoy some friendly competition by playing the Korean New Year game called Yut Nori/Yoot Nori. Discovering Mommyhood has easy-to-follow instructions and you can purchase the game elements here.
9. Create a Korean Fan or Korean Paper Drums
These festive Korean paper fans and drums by Chalk Academy are easy to make for little hands and they bring lots of color and celebratory beats to your Lunar New Year celebration.
10. Watch a Movie with AAPI Characters
We here at The Everymom have curated a wonderful list of kids movies that celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Watch as a whole family and celebrate the diversity of characters in these movies.
11. Make a Lunar New Year Dish
Food unites families during Lunar New Year. There are countless elaborate Lunar New Year dishes with easy recipes that will bring happiness to your taste buds. Go on a culinary adventure by creating and savoring some of these traditional Lunar New Year recipes by Life Made Sweeter.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about this joyous Lunar New Year tradition and use this opportunity to create connections with your family around this holiday. Ultimately, it is a celebration focusing on the importance of hope, fortune, prosperity, and happiness. We wish everyone a lucky and happy Lunar New Year!
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated for timeliness.