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  • Gabriella Ignacio

Lunar New Year: A Global Holiday

Despite coming from a culture that doesn’t celebrate it, my childhood memories of Lunar New Year are both clear and fond. Friends would hand out bright candies, bustling pop-up events scattered the city, and my family routinely visited our go-to Chinese restaurant, where wafting smells of traditional food and overwhelming celebration permeated. However, this positive perception of Lunar New Year has also been somewhat misguided. For a large part of my childhood, I fell into the common misconception of attributing the holiday solely to Chinese culture, and I admittedly know little about its varied interpretations even recently. This year, I sought to explore the numerous cultures beyond China that celebrate this occasion, and hope to recognize some of the lesser-known, but equally important new year traditions. 

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Linguistically, the term “Lunar New Year” derives from lunar and lunisolar calendars, which have roots ranging from ancient Greece and South Arabia to the entirety of the Asian continent. Determining a date for the new year depends on the specificities of the particular lunar cycle, and can land anywhere within the common Gregorian calendar.


Due to geographic proximity, East Asian new year practices in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea are a direct product of the Chinese diaspora. Seollal (The Korean New Year), for instance, dates back to the peninsula’s Chinese origins and has become one of the major national Korean festivals in both the North and South regions. However, Seollal has also gone through a tumultuous cycle of bans and restorations due to invasion and subsequent annexation from the Japanese. For Koreans, it is a hallmark of liberation and resilience, while still being deeply intertwined with familial honor and wishes of longevity. 


In Southeast Asia, Lunar New Year celebrations stem from a wider range of influences. In accordance with Indian Hindu tradition, Nyepi (Indonesia’s Balinese New Year) is commemorated with a day of silence, fasting, and meditation. This stark contrast from the typical bustling life in Bali encourages self-reflection while entering the transitory phase of a new year. In a more locally diverse case, Malaysia’s varied ethnic groups result in multiple festivals within the country. With a population demographic of primarily Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnicities, Malaysia recognizes three distinct new years for each one – Hari Raya Puasa, Chinese New Year, and Deepavali. Other Southeast Asian traditions include Singapore’s similarly mixed ethnic festivities, Filipino renditions of Chinese customs, and Vietnam’s Tết. 


Of course, Lunar New Year is not limited to Asia. The Middle East – though not traditionally celebrating with the same fervor as Asian countries – is also home to communities that observe the renewing of lunar calendars. Islamic New Year’s day may fall in different seasons every year, and is based on the Lunar Hijri calendar widely used in Islam. Conversely, the multitude of Jewish new year observances always fall in the same season, with some of them, such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah, being considered some of the holiest days of the year. 


Lunar New Year traditions encompass customs from around the world, and cannot be restricted to the monolith of solely being a Chinese practice. What I recounted is an extremely brief overview of some ways in which the new year is observed, and I encourage readers to further explore different interpretations. As awareness grows, acknowledging and honoring these underrepresented traditions helps foster cultural appreciation and understanding, and ultimately enriches the global tapestry of celebrations. 

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