While most Arkansans celebrated the New Year starting Jan. 1, some will begin their cultural festivities Jan. 22. The Lunar New Year calendar is a Gregorian-based calendar with 354 days around 12 moon phases. Because the two calendars do not align, the date set aside to start the Lunar New Year calendar feels like it moves yearly based on a standard 12-month calendar cycle.
Many refer to this holiday, which will run from Jan. 22 through Feb. 5, as Chinese New Year, which is not wrong, but it refers to the specific traditions of the Chinese culture. Likewise, Lunar New Year is also not encompassing since other Asian cultures celebrate it throughout Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Therefore, paying attention to who you are interacting with and understanding their culture will keep respect prevalent through curiosity.
What are the traditions and beliefs surrounding Lunar New Year?
Ancient Chinese leaders celebrated winter and spring festivals for 3,500 years, dating back to the Shang Dynasty. Most of these festivals centered around good luck, good fortune, wealth, prosperity and happiness. Asian countries celebrate the holiday over seven days with work and schools closing, so families have extended time to spend together.
The ancient legend tells that a monster named Nian ate many things on the eve of the new year. So the village monks told the people to make loud noises, cut out red paper figures, and hang them over the door to scare Nian away. Their instructions worked and delighted the people, so the New Year began as a celebration to mark the defeat.
- Dragon dancing – brings prosperity and good luck in the new year
- Zodiac signs – each year corresponds to one of 12 animal signs. 2023 falls under the Rabbit year in the zodiac. But the Vietnamese exchange the rabbit for a cat in their calendar and the buffalo for an ox.
- Eat special foods for their different meanings, like dumplings and spring rolls for wealth, fish for prosperity, Tangyuan for family unity, and noodles for happiness and prosperity.
- Oranges and tangerines are used for decoration to bring good luck.
- Wearing red and decorating with red is considered extremely lucky since it is the thing that helped scare Nian away.
- Sweep away bad luck by cleaning your house on the first day of the new year.
- Red envelopes of money are exchanged and given to children as a blessing representing happiness and prosperity in the new year.
- Avoid cutting with a knife or scissors on Lunar New Year’s Day, which can bring bad luck.
- The largest fireworks displays in the world are not on July 4 or new year’s day; they are on Chinese New Year’s Eve, thought to burn away evil demons.
- People exchange gifts in even numbers; the No. 8 is considered extremely lucky.
- Families exchanged new clothes to wear to reunion dinners and bring good fortune.
- Doing laundry on Chinese New Year will wash away all your luck in the new year.
How can you celebrate Lunar New Year?
- Explore the culture. | During the Dec. holiday season, we challenged families to try a new way to understand holidays by exploring other cultures through research and practicing their Christmas traditions. This type of practice is excellent for understanding cultural holiday experiences as well.
- Understand the tradition. | One of the best ways to get past the fear of the unknown is to learn and understand their viewpoint.
- Celebrate the occasion. | Attend a local Lunar New Year celebration and experience the energy of the cultural experience.
- Try the food. | There is no better way to begin to understand a new culture than to taste the flavors of their culture. Try frozen potstickers, dumplings, egg rolls or other Asian-style appetizers in the grocery store. If you are adventurous and have access, visit a market or cultural store.
- Make a craft. | Paper lanterns or Jianzhi paper cutouts, like paper snowflakes or paper fortune cookies, are great activities to make during this time.
- Create a bunny cake. | 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, and many of the bunny-specific traditions families explore during Easter time can be used this year to talk about the beliefs around the persons born in a “rabbit” year.
- Decorate your home. | A lantern festival is how most people end a Lunar New Year celebration. Hang paper lanterns around your home, cut out red figures or shapes and make a garland, and set out groups of tangerines or clementines.
- Read a book with your child. | Books take us to faraway places and help us understand complicated topics. Our Luna New Year by Yobe Qui, Ruby’s Chinese New Year by Vickie Lee, Tomorrow is new year’s day by Aram Kim, or the Mandi Kim series by Lyla Lee are great options to invoke conversation.
- Learn their language. | Mandarin Chinese is one of the most complex languages to learn and write. But a greeting like Gong Xi Fa Cai (gong – zee – fah – ka – ye), a popular seasonal greeting, is something most people can pronounce.
- Start a conversation. | Part of respecting each other is asking questions. Find a neighbor, co-worker or friend and ask about their celebrations. Learn how their family spends this holiday day. Will they get together, exchange gifts, eat particular foods, or wear specific clothing?
Great Asian Restaurants in Arkansas
- Roll & Fold | Bentonville
- ArkanSeoul Korean Food Company | Bentonville
- Royal egg rolls | Centerton
- Chang Thai Asian Cuisine | Sherwood
- Three Fold Dumplings & Noodles Co | Little Rock
- Coby’s Ramen at the Arkansas Heart Hospital | Little Rock
- Mount Fuji | Little Rock
- Bulgogi Korean BBQ | Conway
- Sunrise Buffet | De Queen
- Hiro Hiro | Hope
- Chen’s Garden | Mountain Home
- Make your own Pan Seared Ahi Tuna or Honey Garlic Chicken Stir-Fry with Arkansas honey.
Chinese New Year Events in Arkansas
- Gala | Rogers
- Dinner and Traditional Dance Show | Fayetteville
- Feng Shui | Bentonville
- Dragon Craft | Fort Smith
Follow the Arkansas Chinese American State Association for more information.
All pictures used with permission from the Chinese Association of Northwest Arkansas.
Via Only In Arkansas.