Lunar New Year: 10 fun facts

Dating back over 3000 years, the Lunar New Year is surrounded by myths and legends. To mark this Year of the Ox, here are 10 fun facts you probably didn’t know about the festival. 

A plate of red apples next to a chinese new year lantern

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is one of the biggest celebrations on the planet. Originating in China, this colourful festival with its firecrackers, red lanterns and family banquets is now celebrated across south-east Asia. In Australia, the Lunar Festival is a chance to sample gourmet food, dress in traditional clothes and even avoid sweeping the house for a few days. 

1. When is Chinese New Year?

Colloquially known as Chinese New Year, the Lunar Festival lasts for two weeks. In 2021 the festival runs from February 12-26. Festivities begin on February 11 (New Year’s Eve) and culminate on February 26 with the Lantern Festival. These dates are calculated using the lunar calendar, which is still widely used in China.

2. Popped rice and malt candy

Stretching over 15 days, the Spring Festival is an opportunity to sample some traditional Chinese snacks. Popped rice, which represents wealth and prosperity, is popular with children, while adults snack on fresh fruit, pumpkin seeds or persimmon cakes. Malt candy is another traditional sweet eaten at this time.

3. Are you an oxen?

Those born under the sign of the ox are called oxen. The relevant years are 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961 and 1949. Despite the name this is a very positive zodiac sign. Oxen are honest, earnest and never look for praise or special attention. They rarely lose their tempers, think logically and make excellent leaders. 

4. Sweeping is bad luck

According to Chinese folklore some things are considered taboo during Spring Festival, in order to retain good luck. Among these are sweeping and throwing out garbage. Other taboo activities include showering, arguing, swearing, breaking things and saying unlucky words, such as “death” and “sickness”. Cutting your hair at this time is also considered to bring bad luck.

5. What to wear

Since the Lunar Festival is all about saying goodbye to the old year, the Chinese like to wear something new for these celebrations. Tang suits, with the upturned collar and frog buttons, are popular for men, while richly embroidered qipao, a tightly fitting dress also known as the cheongsam, is often worn by women. The preferred colour is red, which is said to bring good luck and good fortune.

6. Eat more noodles

Suckling pig, fish, lobster, chicken and noodles should all feature in your New Year’s Eve banquet. “The word for fish in Chinese rhymes with tranquillity and denotes making a fresh start,” says Wayne Tseng*, an expert on the lunar calendar. “And the word for lobster rhymes with spirit. Noodles signify a long life and longevity.”

7. Rats come first

According to a popular myth, the order of the 12 zodiac animals is the result of a race organised by the Jade Emperor. The contest was won by the cunning rat, who rode on the back of the ox. Rat tricked the ox into carrying him by singing sweetly, then jumped off his back at the last moment to reach the finish line. 

8. Hang out something red

Red decorations around the family house are thought to bring good luck and also chase away evil spirts. In parts of rural China these decorations act as a protection from a monster called Nian. Many people hang up red lanterns and strings of red chillies outside their homes at this time. The colour red represents happiness and good fortune.

9. Give lucky money

Passing on good luck is a key element of the Spring Festival. Parents or grandparents often give red envelopes containing lucky money to younger members of the family. Alternatively, young people give red envelopes to their elders as a show of gratitude or to ensure longevity. 

10. Wombats not oxen

Did you know there is an Australian lunar calendar? Instead of oxen, pigs and dogs you’ll find goannas, kangaroos, dingoes, emus and echidnas. Under this Aussie zodiac system, developed by the Australian Chinese business community**, the tiger becomes the Tasmanian Tiger, the rabbit the platypus and the ox the wombat.

Sources:
*Wayne Tseng, President of the Chinese Precinct General Chamber of Commerce (Melbourne) and chinesenewyear.net.
**https://www.sbs.com.au/news/lunar-new-year-celebrated-in-australia