Our Asian neighbours celebrate one of their most important festivals some time between January 21 and February 20. What we know as “Chinese New Year” is in fact “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival” to those who celebrate the festival, although it’s not exactly the same thing. As a translation agency, here at Tatutrad we’re fascinated by cultural diversity and know the importance of feeling connected to the cultures we work with. Because our work doesn’t just involve translation; it’s also about making our clients aware of the habits and customs of all international consumers in a global economy.
Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations commence with the first new moon and end with the first full moon, which marks New Year. If you’re reading this and wondering why the full moon marks the start of the New Year, it’s due to the lunar calendar; in other words, it is based on full lunar cycles, and Chinese New Year marks the start of a new lunar year.
Lunar New Year 2022 was celebrated on February 1, and marked the start of the Year of the Tiger in China.
Like any cultural event, Lunar New Year is associated with symbolic celebrations that are celebrated differently depending on the country in Asia:
In China, for example, it’s tradition to:
- Put up red decorations, the colour of good luck. Red lanterns are hung in the street, while people hang red banners with poems and messages above their doorways.
- Celebrate New Year’s Eve with a family meal with dishes that have a traditional symbolic meaning: eggs represent fertility, and shrimps, happiness, and there must be yellow or gold decorations to bring fortune. The feast promises abundance in the future.
- Set off fireworks and bangers at the stroke of midnight for a minute—fitting for the nation that invented them! Interestingly, the Western world has been setting off fireworks and bangers at the stroke of midnight for a number of years.
- Give presents and money in red envelopes. The tradition of giving gifts at New Year includes money in red envelopes, for example bosses giving envelopes to their employees, grandparents to their grandchildren.
When is Lunar New Year?
This year, celebrations took place in China between February 1 and 7.
After the celebration of Lunar New Year, the festivities continue with the Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which marks the end of the Spring Festival and Chinese New Year. During this celebration, paper lanterns (Khom Fay) are released into the air to bring good luck and ward off bad luck. This year it was celebrated on February 15.
As we’ve mentioned, Lunar New Year isn’t only celebrated in China; in South Korea, the festival is known as “Seollal” and the celebrations last three days. Over the course of these days:
- Families gather to eat tasty delicacies, such as the soup Tteok-Guk, traditionally eaten at New Year and made using rice cake.
- Adults traditionally wear a Hanbok (한복).
Women wear a blouse (jeogori) or jacket and a wrap around skirt (chima) with a belt that accentuates the bust line.
Men wear a jeogori with baggy trousers called baji
- It’s also traditional to play Yunnori, a traditional Korean board game, during the Korean Lunar New Year celebrations.
Japan used to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but since 1873, it has celebrated new year as per the Gregorian calendar, like countries in the West. That said, some traditions have been preserved:
- “Otoshidama”: a Japanese tradition that involves giving money in envelopes to their elders as a sign of respect and appreciation.
- “Mochi”: rice cakes are traditionally made for New Year.
In Vietnam, Lunar New Year is the most important festival and goes by the name “Tet Nguyen Dan”. These are the main cultural events during the celebrations:
- At the start of the festival, Ong Tau, the Kitchen God, gives an annual report on each member of his family to the Jade Emperor. Everyone wants Ong Tau to speak highly of them and so, before his departure, they clean and refresh their homes.
- Tet is the chance to start anew, putting aside the previous year’s problems and starting over. As well as cleaning their houses, people tend to buy new clothes and it’s also a favourable time to change jobs or careers.
- Ong Tau returns when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve and is welcomed back with fireworks and gongs. People avoid having bad thoughts and negative feelings during this time so that evil spirits don’t enter their homes.
- Tet also marks the day that the Vietnamese turn another year older, as traditionally they age with the new year and not on the date they were born.
And so that you can send your new year wishes, here are some translations into Chinese, Korean and other languages spoken in Asia that will come in handy:
Khmer: Soursdey Chhnam Tmei
Filipino: Manigong Bagong Taon
Korean: 새해 복 많이 받으세요
Malay: Selamat Tahun Baru
Simplified Chinese: 新年快乐 / 恭喜发财
Traditional Chinese: 新年快樂 / 恭禧發財
Vietnamese: Chúc Mừng Năm Mới
And remember, in order to operate in a global market, we need to assimilate a global culture. At Tatutrad, we’re not just translators; we’re also cultural advisers and consultants.
Author: Rosario de Zayas Rueda