Happy Lunar New Year!

Posted by Marjorie Chang, Copy Editor, on Feb 10, 2021

Happy Lunar New Year!

In the U.S., most people think of the holiday season as the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But just as Christmas decorations are being packed away, another huge holiday looms.

There are hints all around: bright red and gold paper banners; intriguing foods like "glutinous rice cake" at the store; ads and commercials announcing "The Year of the Ox."

It's the Lunar New Year, observed by over a billion people around the world. What's it all about? 

Holiday Origins

Lunar New Year is based on a lunisolar calendar (similar to the Jewish one); it's timed not by the earth’s orbit around the sun but by 12 “cycles” of the moon. The holiday is called Chinese New Year in the U.S., and Spring Festival in China. Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, and Singapore are just a few of the many countries that also celebrate Lunar New Year.

Like many other holidays, Lunar New Year has roots in folklore. For example, each new year is named after one of five elements plus one of 12 animals, based on a myth about a race among these creatures.

Holiday Meanings

Many new year customs, foods, and decorations communicate a desire for prosperity and blessing in the year ahead, with heavy use of symbols and homophones to convey multiple layers of meaning.

Chinatowns in the U.S. often observe the holiday with events like lion dances, firework displays, and lantern festivals that echo celebrations in other Asian countries.

But at its heart, the holiday is about the hope of new beginnings and the importance of family.

Traditional celebrations kick off with a lavish family feast, known as a reunion dinner (similar to Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S.). Family members travel far and wide to share in this feast together. 

Why does Lunar New Year matter? Many Christians view the holiday as a bridge to both celebrating a unique cultural heritage and sharing about God with others who celebrate this holiday.

Three Chase Oakers share how they view Lunar New Year, below.

“Chinese/Lunar New Year is a big deal overseas. I grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution (a Communist movement to abolish all Chinese history, including religion and holidays). For us, the New Year celebration had no meaning other than an extended time to gather with family. My dad worked in another city, which meant Spring Festival was the only time every year that I could see him.

The traditional New Year’s dinner was a special event, especially for kids. My family hardly saw any meat at the table; we ate mostly rice and vegetables. But our New Year reunion dinner always had meat and other delicious foods. That was the highlight of our entire year.

Now, the Lunar New Year celebration is significant because it represents a time for families to pause from their hard work to gather together. That is why most people who are working in other locations will travel home to see their families.

For many families, coming together requires a lot of money and time, but people are willing to spend both to enjoy this annual celebration.” 

- Jianbo Guo

"I didn’t grow up celebrating Chinese New Year with my family. My paternal grandparents were Christians who were led to faith in Jesus by western missionaries in Guangzhou, China. After the Communist takeover in 1949, they fled with their young children to Taiwan, where they continued in their faith.

My parents took us to church every Sunday. We moved around a lot, but we always found community within a local Chinese church. We didn't celebrate Chinese holidays—maybe because of the origins in folklore and superstition. Or maybe because we wanted to assimilate to American life. Most likely, it was a mixture of both.

After having children, my husband and I felt more desire to connect with our cultural heritage. Holidays and traditions are a way to do that.

Chinese New Year is a bridge between my two cultures, and a link from my third-generation Chinese American kids to their first-generation immigrant grandparents. My kids recognize the love behind their grandparents’ celebrations of this holiday.

The Bible itself shows the importance of celebrations. As I reflect on the meaning of celebration and remembering our cultural heritage, two passages come to mind:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-31)

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13, 16)

It’s not the holiday itself that is important, but the connection to a bigger whole. It is a picture of who God has made me: a follower of Jesus who is Chinese American.

These two passages tell me that every part of who I am was knit together by God so that I might know Him and so that others might know Him as well.
- Jenny Wang

"For me, the biggest part of Chinese/Lunar New Year is family. My family would travel from Hong Kong to mainland China to visit my grandparents; that was really the only time we were able to gather all together as a family.

I have never thought about Lunar New Year as a religious holiday. It usually doesn’t carry religious overtones, compared to other Chinese celebrations.

I think the focus on family truly honors God’s command to honor our parents. When I became a Christian, my parents’ biggest fear was that I would forsake them.

After a few years, they saw that my faith actually changed me for the better. And they can see how Jesus affirms and upholds the family.

Now, just as I observe Lunar New Year, they observe Christmas with us by sending gifts. The mutual respect that we show one another has helped to open up communication about spiritual things in life and after death."

- Andy Ho

Regardless of your own heritage, this week is a perfect time to learn more about this huge cultural event. A fun place to start: learning how to wish someone "Happy New Year" in Chinese!

Interested in building cultural and spiritual bridges with others? Visit our Chinese Ministry page for more information about how you can be involved.

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