The meaning behind Lunar New Year explained, and why the Chinese zodiac animal is a rabbit
Lunar New Year is China’s most important festival, and is celebrated by communities across the globe.
This year’s festivities get started on Sunday 22 January, which marks the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit as dictated by the Chinese zodiac.
Here’s everything you need to know about Lunar New Year, how it’s celebrated and the significance behind the animals.
What is Lunar New Year?
Although commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year is celebrated widely across East Asia.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore all enjoy huge celebrations featuring street parties, parades and dance competitions. Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam also put on big celebratory events.
In Taiwan it was likely first celebrated by the Hakka or Hoklo populations that migrated from what is now part of mainland China in the 17th century, while it Vietnam it is believed to have been introduced by the Emperor Zhao Tuo in the 2nd century BC.
The Lunar New Year is also a public holiday in countries where much of the population is of Chinese descent, like the Philippines and Thailand. In the latter, the festivities usually involve a street party over which a member of the royal family presides.
It is also very popular among East Asian communities across the globe, meaning its presence is significant in countries including the UK and United States.
When is Lunar New Year 2023?
In 2023 Lunar New Year falls on Sunday 22 January – its position is dictated by the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February, so this year’s date is one of the earliest in recent times.
While it is unclear exactly when new year celebrations began in China, it is believed to have originated as early as 2,300BC with Emperors Yao and Shun.
At first the holiday was marked between midwinter and early spring, however it soon adopted the solar calendar and relied on the moon phase to lock down the date.
In China, celebrations last for 16 days, starting on the eve of the New Year and finishing on the 15th day, on which the Yuan Xiao Festival – when people release thousands of paper lanterns into the sky – takes place.
The new year is marked in Chinese cities with traditional performances such as dragon dances, lion dances, and imperial performances like an emperor’s wedding.
A great variety of traditional Chinese products are on offer, with rarely seen snacks available in city parks and temple fairs, while the colour red is everywhere, from decorations to clothes.
There are three main ways people like to say “Happy New Year” in both Mandarin, which is spoken in mainland China, and Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong.
The first is “Xīnnián hǎo”, which translates as “New Year goodness”.
The second is “Gōngxǐ fācái”, which translates as “happiness and prosperity”.
The third is “Bùbù gāoshēng”, which translates as “on the up and up”.
Why is it the Year of the Rabbit?
This year’s zodiac sign is the Rabbit, following from 2022’s Tiger and the Ox in 2021.
Those born in the year of the Rabbit are believed to be clever, compassionate and generous, although their negative traits include being over-cautious and vain.
You are a Rabbit if your birth year falls on: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023, 2035.
It is belived that the order of the animals comes from the story of the Great Race.
Jade Emperor, one of the most important gods in Chinese tradition, invited a series of animals to a race of which 12 species turned up – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
To reward their efforts for attending, years are named after them in the order in which they finished the race, as listed above.
The story goes that the Rat rode on the back of the Ox as he crossed the river and shot off to the finish line to bag first place. This meant the Ox, who had been due to win the race, had to settle for second place.