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The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so the date of Lunar New Year is different each year. In China and in many other places, like Vietnam, Singapore and Korea, Lunar New Year is usually celebrated in January or February, and it's a very important festival.
Lunar New Year animals
Each year is named after one of 12 animals. There is a traditional story about how the animals were chosen. The Jade Emperor – an important god in traditional Chinese religions – wanted to find a way to measure time. He decided to have a race for all the animals in the country. Only 12 animals actually managed to get to the race, and the Emperor rewarded them by naming the 12 years of the lunar calendar after them. The first to finish was the rat, so the first year is the Year of the Rat. The other eleven, in order, were the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. In many countries, the animals are the same as these, but in some places they are a bit different.
A family celebration
Different places celebrate in slightly different ways, but Lunar New Year is very much a family celebration everywhere. The younger generation greet their parents and grandparents with good wishes for the year ahead and show their respect for the older generation. In Korea this is called Sebae. The young people kneel on the ground and bow deeply.
Older members of the family give younger ones gifts of money, traditionally in small packets. Red packets are used in China and Vietnam, as red is a lucky colour. Nowadays, many people send money electronically too. It is lucky to send money in certain amounts, for example using the number eight, which in Chinese sounds like the word 'prosper'.
Traditional foods which are eaten at Lunar New Year often have a special meaning. For example, in China, many people eat fish dishes because the Chinese word for 'fish' sounds similar to 'surplus', meaning you will have more than enough of everything you need.
In Korea, people have a special soup. Thin pieces of rice cake are boiled in a clear soup with slices of beef and vegetables. The rice cake pieces are round and may represent coins and money.
A traditional Vietnamese food is a square rice cake wrapped in leaves. It's stuffed with pork and vegetables and takes many hours to prepare, so many people buy the cake instead of making it.
There are many other Lunar New Year traditions. For example, in Vietnam, people believe that the first person to enter their home in the New Year will decide their fortune for the year ahead. They are careful to invite someone who is kind, well behaved and successful.
In Korea, families often play traditional board games together, such as Yunnori. In this game, teams take turns throwing four specially shaped sticks into the air. They move around the board depending on how the sticks fall.
In China, many people have firecrackers, which burn and make a loud bang. They watch street performances, where acrobatic dancers dress up as a lion or a dragon. They dance, accompanied by music and drums.
People celebrate Lunar New Year in many different ways, but all the celebrations are about wishing everyone luck, happiness and prosperity for the year ahead. Happy Lunar New Year!
Do you celebrate Lunar New Year? When and how is New Year celebrated where you live?