I grew up in San Luis Obispo, the same town as my Chinese grandparents, so for years, I have been celebrating Lunar New Year.
Until I was older, I didn’t realize that Lunar New Year, or what I knew as Chinese New Year, was actually celebrated among other Asian countries, too.
Lunar New Year has always been an exciting holiday for me because I was able to learn about my culture, and all of the celebrations were filled with bright imagery and fun sounds. Here are some of the traditions I remember leading up to Lunar New Year.
1. New Clothes
This has always been my favorite part of Lunar New Year. My grandparents taught me that when you’re entering the new year, you’re supposed to wear new clothes so that the evil spirits don’t recognize you. Now that I’m in college, it’s a good excuse for me to go shopping for myself. Avoid wearing too much black during the celebration period. Black symbolizes bad luck and even death.
2. Red Envelopes
When the red envelopes come out you know it’s about to be a good time. The Chinese believe that giving away money will produce good luck for the new year, to themselves and to those that they bestow it to. Red envelopes are ornately decorated with gold and traditional images from Chinese culture. There are two things that you must never do when giving away red envelopes: coins or multiple bills are never to be given out, and you’re not supposed to open the envelopes in front of whoever gives them to you. Doing this causes the evil spirits to see you as greedy.
3. Gong Hey Fat Choy or Gong Xi Fa Cai
Both meaning Happy New Year, these expressions can be heard entering any Chinese household leading up to the new year’s event, and usually accompanied by receiving red envelopes!
In other countries, the expression “Happy New Year” can be said in the following ways:
Japanese: akemashite omedetō gozaimasu
Korean: Sae Hae Bok Mani Ba Deu Se Yo
Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Nam Moi
I always used to plug my ears for this one. The firecrackers used in Lunar New Year celebrations are loud, banging fireworks that are mostly lit on the ground. The loud noises are thought to scare the bad spirits away, to prevent them from bringing bad luck.
5. Honor Your Ancestors
In my grandparents house, we have a shrine that is dedicated to people who have passed away. The shrine is an ornate red and gold frame with candles and photos. During Lunar New Year, we place offerings to them in the form of food. We practice a more modern approach and only offer fruits, while more traditionally full dishes are prepared and offered.
6. Lion Dancers
My absolute favorite part about Lunar New Year is the lion dancing. Lions are a powerful creature in the Chinese culture. Lion heads are ornately decorated paper mache sculptures that are operated by two people: one serving as the tail and one as the head. The tail is a long piece of silk that is sewn to represent the lion’s body. Both performers wear a pair of pants decorated to match the head and body, and if performed well, these garments will rarely be seen. When I was younger I would perform the lion dance at my school during Lunar New Year, as I was one of very few Asian students at my school. My family encouraged me to embrace my culture and my school loved to celebrate diversity.
Did you know here at Cal Poly Pomona we have a Lunar New Year celebration? Head over to University Park from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, February 17 to help us celebrate the year of the Sheep! There will be arts and crafts, free giveaways, food and cultural performances. The event will be free to everyone so make sure you invite your families and friends to come celebrate!