As we farewell the Year of the Tiger, millions of people around the world are preparing to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit.
Celebrated in China for thousands of years, Lunar New Year is based on a calendar that uses both the lunar (cycles of the Moon) and solar (Earth’s annual orbit around the Sun) to determine dates. This means that the date of Lunar New Year varies from year to year because it follows the cycle of the moon.
In 2023, January 22 marks the beginning of Lunar New Year. The celebration will end on February 5, with the Lantern Festival.
The Chinese community and its diaspora are not the only ones who observe celebrations following the Lunar calendar.
Lunar New Year is celebrated in many other Asian countries, including Vietnam, the Koreas, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Although some traditions are shared, others are unique to each country’s cultural identity.
To the Vietnamese, for example, this Lunar New Year will welcome the Year of the Cat. To Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese and those living in Hong Kong, the year is the Year of the Rabbit.
Koreans and Vietnamese also revel in new year festivities as they celebrate Seollal and Tết, respectively.
While customs, rituals and the length of celebrations vary, one thing stays true: honouring a fresh start.
There are 12 animals following a repeating 12-year cycle and they go by the following order: Rat, ox/buffalo, tiger, rabbit/cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
The animals of the Chinese zodiac symbolise a deep connection with that nation’s ancient cultural heritage, each one holding a unique place in Chinese history, mythology and customs.
It’s not just the decorations that require thorough planning. A days-long feast is also carefully curated. For several days — starting on their New Year’s Eve — people indulge in food with symbolic meaning, either based on appearance or word association. Dumplings and spring rolls, for instance, represent wealth because they are thought to resemble silver ingots and gold bars.
Families and friends often come together to dive into a banquet. One dish that you will traditionally find on Lunar New Year is steamed fish. Per custom, you are supposed to eat the middle part of the fish and leave the head and the tail for the following day, the first day of the new year. This signifies the previous year’s surplus flowing into the new year and bringing more fortune.
Lion and dragon dance performances, temple fairs, and flower market shopping are just a few of the rich, vibrant activities you can expect to see. Lion and dragon dancers parade the streets to ward off evil spirits and invite luck, while keeping onlookers entertained. In some cities, the season sees a dazzling display of fireworks, along with bursts of firecrackers, to mark the special occasion. Homes and streets are often decked out with red decorations, such as banners, lanterns and ornaments.
It is customary to visit temples to pray for a great year and good fortune while burning incense and offering food to ancestors.
Red envelopes filled with an auspicious amount are handed to the young and unmarried from their grandparents, parents and married relatives. Koreans and Vietnamese also have a similar practice, where the elderly would give their children red packets.
For this year’s Lunar New Year Festival at Rhodes, local associations in South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and other Australian communities have been invited to celebrate the 2023 Lunar New Year. This will be the first time a multi-national and multi-ethnic Luna New Year celebration will be celebrated on Australian soil.