Writer: Catherine S.
Visuals: Jasmine R.
Editor: James Y.
If you heard the fireworks bursting and saw the massive lions dancing around the streets, that’s right–– you were witnessing the Lunar New Year celebrations! January 25th, 2020 marked the Lunar New Year’s Day in the Philippines, initiating the year of the mouse. The Lunar New Year’s Day celebrates the first day of the year in a lunar calendar, in which dates are based on the moon’s movements. The difference between the lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar, the one we use today worldwide, is that the lunar calendar takes account of the 29.5 day cycle of the moon’s cycle, which is different from the modern calendar that uses 30 or 31 day system for a month. Due to commonly being referred to as Chinese New Year, some people may think that the Lunar New Year’s Day is solely a Chinese tradition, it is actually an important festival in numerous Asian countries–– including Korea, Vietnam and Tibet. In this article, we will explore the distinct New Year traditions that each of these countries have.
Lunar New Year in China is more widely known as the “Spring Festival”, as it marks the end of winter and the start of spring. During the Spring Festival, buildings are decorated in red, a color believed to bring luck and prosperity. Red Chinese lanterns light the streets, bringing the festivity of the holiday. In China, the Lunar New Year’s Day Eve is considered the most important day, with families reuniting and spending the time at home celebrating. Robyn L., the President of Chinese Honor Society, says that “family reunions are extremely important for Chinese people, especially during Chinese New Year. During this season, many would travel vast distances just to visit their families in China, and nearly all transportation vehicles are fully booked!”. Many Chinese prepare for the New Year by cleaning the entire house together. The Chinese adopted the custom of staying up late on Chinese New Year’s Day to greet the arrival of the new year. Despite being less and less frequent today, the Chinese enjoy setting off firecrackers and fireworks to celebrate and add to the merriment of the New Year. Along with the fireworks, lion dances can be seen around the country. The lion is a symbol of good fortune, and the lion dance is believed to chase away the evil spirit and bring happiness and good luck to the family. On New Year’s Day, the lion goes around the house to perform the “cai qing”, which means “plucking the green.” This is when the lion jumps to catch the “lettuce” that is tied to the ceilings, and usually, envelopes that are filled with money are also tied with the lettuce. When the lion eat the lettuce and the envelope when it catches it, it spits out the lettuce but not the envelope. The tradition of giving money is also seen in homes as the elders give young children money in red envelopes. Furthermore, Robyn L. says “there is also a lot of symbolism in the food that they eat during Chinese New Year. For example, they believe eating dumplings will bring good luck, because dumplings look like the Chinese gold ingot (元宝)!”
In Korea, the Lunar New Year’s Day is called Seol Nal. The day before and after Seol Nal is declared a national holiday, which allows dispersed family members to gather together. On Seoul Nal, each family has traditional rituals to honor the ancestors and pray that they will help the family prosper in the upcoming year. After the rituals, the family eats Tteok-guk together, which is a rice cake soup in broth. Eating one bowl of Tteok-guk symbolizes that the person has grown one year older, which relates to the Korean style of considering that a person gets one year older on New Year’s day, not on their birthdays–– which is different from the worldwide system of counting one’s age. After eating the soup, the family kow-tows together before the elders of the family. The elders would then give deokdams, or advice, for the new year and wishes them a happy new year. The elders also give money to the younger members of the family. The day continues by spending time together such as playing Korean card games like Hwatu, or playing yut no ri–– a traditional board game where two teams compete by throwing special wooden blocks with numbered-sides (akin to dice) to go around the board faster than the other team.
Regardless of the culture, the different forms of celebration of the Lunar New Year show one thing in common: welcoming the new year with the family, a shared value that all cultures cherish. Even though many Bearcats are away from their home countries, the Lunar New Year festivals held in the Philippines will hopefully help the Bearcats to feel a sense of festivity that may still be in a different form than their home countries.