Saturday 25 January 2020 marks the beginning of the new lunar year. This year will be the Year of the Rat, specifically the White Metal Rat. It marks the first year of the new lunar cycle.
Also known as Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, or Chunjie (China); Tet (Vietnam); Seollal (Korea); or Losar (Tibet), Lunar New Year is celebrated by about 1.5 billion people around the world!
Lunar New Year Around the World
Chinese New Year is China’s most important traditional festival, celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year can begin anytime between late January and mid-February.
However, people from all across Asia observe the Lunar New Year – China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, The Philippines, and more. Many people from these countries, or with this heritage, travel long distances to visit family for this holiday.
In each country, festivities and traditions differ. Many cultures celebrate with:
- Lucky money envelopes (or lai see, ang bao, hong bao, or li xi)
- Symbolic foods (think: dumplings, rice cake soup, whole steamed fish, moon cakes, and fruits)
- Traditional dress
- Prayers to ancestors
- Lion and dragon dances
The Story Behind the Lunar New Year
The lunar calendar has a 12-year cycle, following the moon phases, or synodic (lunar) months. Because of the Earth’s constant orbit around the Sun, the Moon must travel slightly more than 360 degrees to reach the next new moon.
The sidereal month (the time it takes for the Moon to orbit 360° around the Earth in a ‘fixed’ circuit) is shorter than the lunar or synodic month. The synodic month measures the actual moon phases; i.e. from one next moon to the next.
Thus, the dates of the holiday will differ slightly each year, beginning any time between 21 January and 20 February.
The most widely recognised and used calendar worldwide is the Gregorian calendar, dating back to 1582; the time of Pope Gregory XIII. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar system that originally evolved out of a lunar calendar system.
Each lunar year is represented by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.
Legend has it that the Jade Emperor in China held a race to assign the 12 spots in the zodiac to 12 animals. The animals arrived in this order: rat, ox/buffalo, tiger, rabbit (cat in Vietnam), dragon, snake, horse, goat/sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
According to different myths, the rat is believed to have arrived first as it sneakily tricked the Ox into giving it a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, the Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, arriving first.
What’s in Store This Year?
Of the five elements of Chinese cosmology (metal, water, wood, fire, and earth), Metal is strong, determined, and resolute.
As we enter the first year of the 12-year moon cycle, this is the time to start fresh with a clean slate, full of motivation.
Rats are clever, quick thinkers; successful, and known for their spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility and vitality. In Chinese culture, rats symbolise wealth and surplus. Because of their reproduction rate, married couples would pray to them for children.
To all our Rat friends, this is your year! You can expect success in the workplace with your career and around education. Be cautious, however, with your health and relationships, as these areas may see some challenges.
Overall, Rats should rejoice in their ability to create success and abundance, as this will point to financial gain in the coming year.
Most recent years of the Rat are 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, and 2008.
For the purpose of fashion, art and feng shui (the ancient Chinese science of respecting energy forces [qi] to harmonise humans and objects within spaces) the lucky colours for Rats this year are white, blue, gold, and green. The lucky numbers are 2 and 3.
So, as a warm welcome to the new lunar year, may we all say:
春节快乐 – Happy Spring Festival! (Mandarin)
恭喜发财 – Wishing You Wealth and Prosperity (Cantonese)
Chúc mừng năm mới – Happy New Year (Vietnamese)