Welcoming the Year of the Ox

A guide to the Chinese New Year holiday

Chinese New Year is upon us, and we’re ringing in the Year of the Ox with some background on the cultural traditions of the Lunar New Year celebration.

When is the Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year falls on February 12th this year, but that’s not always the case. The holiday is based on the lunar calendar and occurs on the first new moon of each year. (The United States uses the Gregorian calendar instead.) The Spring Festival begins tomorrow and lasts for 11 days. The celebration ends with the Lantern Festival on the full moon – this year, February 26th.

What does the Year of the Ox mean?

Each year of the lunar calendar is associated with one of the 12 zodiac animals. 2020, for example, was the Year of the Rat. This year, that animal is the Ox. The ox is a hardworking animal, and those born in the Year of the Ox are also thought to possess this trait.

How is Chinese New Year celebrated? 

One of the best-known Chinese New Year traditions involves the red envelopes given to children. These envelopes, called 红包 (hóng bāo) in Chinese, are filled with money for the new year.  The envelopes are also meant to pass on good fortune. Other red decorations include paper cuttings – intricately carved illustrations on thin red paper, often hung in windows. Certain words, also on red paper, are hung up on walls, windows, and doors. The word 福 (fú), meaning “fortune,” is an especially popular word to decorate with.

Food is also important to the symbolism of the holiday. Noodles are prepared for longevity, and whole fish is a staple of Chinese New Year celebrations because it is thought to symbolize surplus wealth. If you’re looking to celebrate with some Chinese food, there has never been a better time to support your local Chinatown restaurants and other small businesses, many of which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, the festivities culminate with the Lantern Festival, which symbolizes reunion, celebrated by lighting lanterns and moon gazing. Reunion might look a little different this year. Although the Lunar New Year is a time generally spent with family and friends, social distancing requirements may interrupt some of these traditions. But the Chinese New Year is a new beginning, and we can all hope that the Ox ushers in some brighter days.

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