What is Lunar New Year, which countries celebrate it and why is it the Year of the Dragon?

Popular festival marks a time of feasting, cleaning and celebrating with family

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The Lunar New Year begins on Saturday and countries around the world are set to celebrate.

It is also commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, although the holiday is celebrated in many East Asian countries as well as Asian communities throughout the world.

This is the Year of the Dragon and celebrations will go on until February 20, before preparations begin for the Lantern Festival on February 21.

What is Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year marks the beginning of a calendar year that bases its months on moon cycles. The tradition dates to the 14th century BC, when the Shang Dynasty was in power, and the festival typically lands some time between the end of January and mid-February. Last year, Lunar New Year started on February 9.

However, it is worth noting that Lunar New Year is not just a one-day affair, it is an action-packed holiday celebrated over 15 days. During this time, houses are cleaned, decorations put up, feasts and family dinners organised, debts cleared and firecrackers let off. There are also parades and other festivities to watch or be a part of.

In China, specific dishes are eaten with the intention of bringing luck and prosperity to the coming year – from longevity noodles to Peking duck. The celebrations usually culminate on the date of the full moon with a lantern festival, also known as the Shangyuan Festival.

Celebrated in many countries – not only China

Within China, the Lunar New Year is synonymous with Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. However, many neighbouring countries in Asia have developed their own New Year celebrations, influenced by the Chinese calendar.

Vietnam celebrates Tet Nguyen Dan, also known as Tet, while Korea celebrates Seollal, which lasts for three days instead of 15.

In Mongolia, the Lunar New Year is also called Tsagaan Sar. In Indonesia, Chinese New Year is known as Imlek and has become a popular holiday.

Tibet’s New Year celebrations, known as the Losar Festival, are usually not held on the same date as China’s Lunar New Year (although it is not usually far off). This year, Losar begins on March 3.

Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines also mark the occasion at the same time as Chinese New Year, as do many other countries that have a high number of Chinese residents.

Which animal is associated with this year?

Each Chinese New Year is associated with an animal according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, which features 12 animals including the rabbit (which was 2023's animal), rat, horse, monkey and rooster.

This year is the Year of the Dragon. The calendar is based on a 12-year cycle, with previous dragon years falling in 2000, 2012, 1988, 1976 and so on. According to superstition, those born during the Year of the Dragon show natural courage, tenacity, and intelligence, often displaying enthusiasm and confidence.

Updated: February 10, 2024, 10:40 AM