Historical & Current Events dictionary

Lunar New Year

loo-ner noo yeer ]

What is Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is the observance of the start of a new year in a lunar or lunisolar calendar. The phrase is most often used to refer to the Lunar New Year celebration held in China and worldwide by people of Chinese heritage, known as Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year usually falls in late January or early February.

When is Lunar New Year?

The date of Lunar New Year in 2021 is February 12. Lunar New Year falls on February 1 in 2022.

In the Chinese zodiac, an astrological system based on the lunar calendar, each year corresponds to one of 12 animals and its attributes. 2021 is the Year of the Ox, which is associated with strength, reliability, and determination. Online, the Year of the Ox is commonly referred to with the Ox emoji 🐂. As the Chinese zodiac repeats in 12-year cycles, the next Year of the Ox will be 2033.

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Related words

Chinese New Year emoji, 🥮 Mooncake emoji, 🎆 Fireworks emoji, 🐂 Ox emoji

Where does Lunar New Year come from?

Lunar calendars consisting of 12 months, each month corresponding roughly to one cycle of the moon, have been used by several peoples throughout history, including in many Asian cultures as well as by Muslims and Jews. A number of different Lunar New Year festivals are held throughout the world.

Because 12 lunar cycles do not fill a whole year, it is necessary to occasionally add an extra month. The Chinese calendar had adopted this custom as early as by 1600 BCE., and Jewish calendar followed suit by the eighth century CE., creating what are known as lunisolar calendars. This avoids “seasonal creep,” keeping holidays in the same season, even if they may fall slightly later or earlier compared to a solar calendar. The Chinese calendar spread to Korea and then to Japan by the sixth century a.d., and was eventually adopted elsewhere in Asia.

In the Chinese calendar, the new year begins on the second full moon after the winter solstice. In 1912, China’s Nationalist party officially moved the country to the Gregorian calendar, and renamed the Lunar New Year the Spring Festival. In 1949, the Communist party forbade Lunar New Year celebrations. Spring Festival celebrations were permitted again in the 1980s, and by 1996, the Chinese government established a week-long vacation surrounding the Spring Festival.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated as Tet by Vietnamese people and Seollal by Koreans. Visiting family, eating large meals of traditional foods, and parades are common Lunar New Year festivities across these cultures. Other customs can vary from culture to culture and place to place.

Japan adopted the western Gregorian calendar in 1872, and now observes New Year’s Day on January 1. Still, many people of Chinese descent in Japan celebrate the Lunar New Year as well. Additionally, some people travel from China to Japan to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Korea followed Japan in officially adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1896, but continues to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Many predominantly Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand use lunisolar calendars, but base their New Year’s celebrations on the sun’s transition from the constellation Pisces in the west into Aries. These celebrations fall in mid-April in the Gregorian calendar and may include purification rituals and playfully splashing others with water, among other activities.

Losar is a Lunar New Year festival observed in Tibet and Bhutan. It falls in February or March and includes dances and the decoration of monasteries.

Asian people around the world may also celebrate their respective Lunar New Year wherever they are. London claims to have the largest such celebration outside Asia and San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade claims to be the largest Asian cultural event in North America.

The Islamic liturgical calendar is strictly lunar, meaning that Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year, can fall in different seasons across the years. Al-Hijra commemorates Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina, but the date is not marked by large public celebrations.

Usually falling in September or October, Rosh Hashanah is the start of the year in the lunisolar Hebrew calendar. It means “the head of the year,” and is observed with traditional meals, prayers, and the blowing of a ram’s horn known as the shofar.

Examples of Lunar New Year

Shi Ying won’t be making the traditional pilgrimage back to Shanghai to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with her extended family. Instead, they’re all going to Japan for shopping and sightseeing.
Bloomberg News, January 23, 2017
Additionally, Sapphire Princess sails a 15-day Grand Asia voyage, offering an overnight in Hong Kong. For the 2019 Lunar New Year, Sapphire Princess will be sailing a seven-day Vietnam & Thailand voyage (roundtrip from Singapore).
Princess.com, May 26, 2017
All across the country this weekend, major cities with established Asian populations will roll out Lunar New Year parades with great fanfare, including some big ones in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas. There will be dragon dances on Chinatown streets that are narrowing with gentrification. I will be in my old Brooklyn apartment with my dad, burning incense on my fire escape.
Kat Chow, NPR,  January 27, 2017

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Who uses Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is often discussed when marking various celebrations of the new year around the world. The phase is used to share different ways to mark the event and wish others a joyful Lunar New Year.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of Lunar New Year like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Lunar New Year that will help our users expand their word mastery.