Lunar New Year: Welcoming the Year of the Tiger


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Saying goodbye to the Ox, we enter the Year of the Tiger on February 1, 2022.

Though the pandemic continues to overshadow the occasion, with public festivities once again pared down or canceled in many cities, millions of families around the world will still be celebrating at home.

Here’s a quick guide to the most common Lunar New Year traditions and superstitions, as well as insights from some of Hong Kong’s most established geomancers on what the Year of the Tiger might have in store.

Lunar New Year 101

Lunar New Year festivities can often last for up to 15 days, with different tasks and activities taking place over that period. (In China, it’s also referred to as the Spring Festival.)

Though the spread of Omicron has impacted the way people are celebrating this year, don’t despair and remember the unofficial #1 tip from the Lunar New Year rule book: Focus on the positive and only use auspicious language.

So how is the Lunar New Year traditionally celebrated? It all begins about a week ahead of the new year.

On the 26th day of the last lunar month — January 28 this year — festive cakes and puddings are made. The word for cakes and puddings is “gao” in Mandarin or “go” in Cantonese, which sounds the same as the word for “tall,” meaning eating them is believed to lead to improvements and growth in the coming year.

(If you haven’t prepared your own “go” yet, here’s an easy recipe for turnip cake, a beloved Lunar New Year dish.)

Then, a big cleanup is done in homes on the 28th day, which was January 30 this year. The aim here is to rid your home of any bad luck that’s accumulated over the past year.

Red is the de facto Lunar New Year color. It's assoicated with luck and prosperity.

Red is the de facto Lunar New Year color. It’s assoicated with luck and prosperity.

Chen Chuhong/China News Service/Getty Images

A big family reunion dinner is usually held on Lunar New Year’s Eve, which falls on January 31 this year.

The menu is carefully chosen to include dishes associated with luck, including fish (the Chinese word for it sounds like the word for “surplus”), puddings (symbolizes advancement) and foods that look like gold ingots (like dumplings).

Though many Western nations refer to the Lunar New Year/Spring Festival holiday as Chinese New Year, bear in mind it’s celebrated not just in Chinese communities but in other Asian countries, including Vietnam and South Korea.

Countries that observe Lunar New Year often offer three to seven days of public holidays but celebrations aren’t complete until the 15th day of the first lunar month, also known as the Lantern Festival.

People are expected to visit relatives and friends in the early days of new year — except for the third day of the month. Day three of Lunar New Year (which falls on February 3 this year) is named “chi kou,” or red mouth. It’s believed that arguments are more likely to happen on this day, so people will visit temples and avoid social interactions.

Cities around the world welcome the Lunar New Year with lantern shows and fireworks.

Cities around the world welcome the Lunar New Year with lantern shows and fireworks.

VCG/Getty Images

There are plenty of other rules and superstitions attached to the Lunar New Year. For instance, don’t wash or cut your hair on the first day of the new year. Why? The Chinese character for hair is the first character in the word for prosper. Therefore washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away.

You’ll also want to avoid purchasing footwear for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese.

Throughout the 15-day festival, hosts usually prepare candy boxes and snacks for their guests. Married couples are expected to hand out red packets filled with money to children and unmarried adults to wish them luck.

The seventh day (February 7) is said to be the day when the Chinese mother goddess Nuwa created mankind and, thus, is called renri (the people’s birthday).

Different communities in Asia will serve different birthday foods on that day. For instance, people in Malaysia enjoy yeesang, or a “Prosperity Toss” of raw fish and shredded vegetables, whereas Cantonese people will eat sweet rice balls.

The highlight comes on the last day (February 15). In ancient Chinese society, it was the only day when young girls could go out to admire lanterns and meet boys. Thus, it’s also been dubbed Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Nowadays, cities around the world still put on massive lantern displays and fairs on the final day of the festival.

Heavenly stems and earthly branches

The 12-year Chinese zodiac calendar cycle is represented by 12 different animals — the Chinese zodiac signs — but that’s only the start.

Followers believe that for each of the Chinese zodiac signs, luck will depend largely on the positions of the Tai Sui — the stars directly opposite Jupiter.

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