5 Fast Facts about the Lunar New Year

iStock.com/oneclearvision
iStock.com/oneclearvision

The Chinese New Year brings to mind visions of dancing dragons and lanterns lit in red, and whether you celebrate the traditional way or observe from afar, the good tidings of the lunar new year are a familiar feeling.

However, while the Chinese New Year is a lunar new year, the history of the Lunar New Year and its various celebrations are much more complicated. All Chinese New Year celebrations are celebrations of the Lunar New Year, but certainly not all Lunar New Year celebrations are traditionally Chinese.

Learn a little more about this widely celebrated event with these five fast facts.

1. The beginning of the lunar new year changes each year.

Dragon and lion dancers perform on the streets in Manila, Philippines.
Dragon and lion dancers perform on the streets in Manila, Philippines.
Jes Aznar/Getty Images

The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so the date of the Chinese New Year and its festival changes every year. Technically, it falls during the second new moon after the winter solstice. Though it falls on February 5 this year, the first day of the lunar new year can be anywhere from January 21 to February 19. China was relatively late to adopting the Gregorian calendar, officially switching in 1912 (though not effectively using it until 1929), but the lunar calendar is more important on a spiritual and cultural level. All of the traditional holidays from the lunar calendar, like the winter solstice, are still celebrated in China, and many people in China still calculate their age and birthday by the lunar calendar.

2. The lunar calendar is not quite the same as the lunisolar calendar.

Filipinos flock to a local temple as they celebrate the lunar new year in Manila, Philippines.
Filipinos flock to a local temple as they celebrate the lunar new year in Manila, Philippines.
Jes Aznar/Getty Images

The "Lunar New Year" can actually indicate a couple of different things. The broadest meaning is based solely on the lunar calendar, which is calculated by monthly cycles based on the moon's phases (the Islamic calendar, for example, is a lunar calendar). Some lunar new years, though, are based on lunisolar calendars, which include both the moon's phase and the time in the solar year. The Gregorian calendar—and the Chinese, Hebrew, and ancient Babylonian calendars, too—are lunisolar calendars. This explains why holidays like Easter, Ramadan, or Rosh Hashanah in the Gregorian calendar—and Chinese New Year—fall on different dates every year.

3. Lunar New Year festivities date back to 14th century BCE.

Market-goers pose for photos with bronze pig statues at Hang Luoc street Lunar New Year fair, a favorite shopping place for local people in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Market-goers pose for photos with bronze pig statues at Hang Luoc street Lunar New Year fair, a favorite shopping place for local people in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Linh Pham/Getty Images

Certainly the most recognized celebration of the lunar new year comes from China. Though it's hard to pinpoint its origin, the celebration of the new year in China started somewhere around the 14th century BCE, when a solar-based calendar created around the solstices was introduced. With it, the Chinese began using lunar and solar calendars concurrently. The agrarian society, though, knew that each year's harvest went through the same cycles every year, and the new harvest year (hence, why it's also called the Spring Festival) began being celebrated during the Shang dynasty. It wasn't until much later, during the 2nd century BCE, that Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty fixed the celebration to be on the first day on the first month of the lunar calendar.

4. It's not just a Chinese festival.

People crowd on the street during the Grebeg Sudiro festival in Solo City, Central Java, Indonesia. Grebeg Sudiro festival is held as a prelude to the Chinese New Year; people bring offerings known as gunungan.
People crowd on the street during the Grebeg Sudiro festival in Solo City, Central Java, Indonesia. Grebeg Sudiro festival is held as a prelude to the Chinese New Year; people bring offerings known as gunungan, including Chinese sweetcakes piled up into the shape of mountains, which are paraded in the streets followed by Chinese and Javanese performers.
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

The Chinese New Year is not the only celebration based on the lunar new year. There are lunar new year celebrations in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, and more. In fact, Sydney, Australia renamed their festivities from "Chinese" to "Lunar New Year Festival" this year in order to be more inclusive of the numerous Asian cultures that celebrate with a lunar calendar.

5. Lunar New Year is an official holiday in California.

Children practice their drumming before the start of the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade in San Francisco, California.
Children practice their drumming before the start of the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Not only is California the most populous state in the union, according to the most recent census data, it also has the largest Asian population of any state, at roughly 6 million. Because Asian culture is so popular in California, in 2018, former Governor Jerry Brown signed a law recognizing the Lunar New Year as an official state holiday.

"Millions of people in California celebrate the traditions of the Lunar New Year that are transmitted from one generation to the next," said Dr. Richard Pan, a state senator and co-author of the bill. "This bill will help recognize the rich history of one of the most celebrated events worldwide, and demonstrates to the API [Asian and Pacific Islander] community in our state that we are all part of the California family."

6 Facts About International Women's Day

iStock.com/robeo
iStock.com/robeo

For more than 100 years, March 8th has marked what has come to be known as International Women's Day in countries around the world. While its purpose differs from place to place—in some countries it’s a day of protest, in others it’s a way to celebrate the accomplishments of women and promote gender equality—the holiday is more than just a simple hashtag. Ahead of this year’s celebration, let’s take a moment to explore the day’s origins and traditions.

1. International Women's Day originated more than 100 years ago.

On February 28, 1909, the now-dissolved Socialist Party of America organized the first National Woman’s Day, which took place on the last Sunday in February. In 1910, Clara Zetkin—the leader of Germany’s 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party—proposed the idea of a global International Women’s Day, so that people around the world could celebrate at the same time. On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held; more than 1 million people in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark took part.

2. The celebration got women the vote in Russia.

In 1917, women in Russia honored the day by beginning a strike for “bread and peace” as a way to protest World War I and advocate for gender parity. Czar Nicholas II, the country’s leader at the time, was not impressed and instructed General Khabalov of the Petrograd Military District to put an end to the protests—and to shoot any woman who refused to stand down. But the women wouldn't be intimidated and continued their protests, which led the Czar to abdicate just days later. The provisional government then granted women in Russia the right to vote.

3. The United Nations officially adopted International Women's Day in 1975.

In 1975, the United Nations—which had dubbed the year International Women’s Year—celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th for the first time. Since then, the UN has become the primary sponsor of the annual event and has encouraged even more countries around the world to embrace the holiday and its goal of celebrating “acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

4. International Women's Day is an official holiday in dozens of countries.

International Women’s Day is a day of celebration around the world, and an official holiday in dozens of countries. Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Uganda, Mongolia, Georgia, Laos, Cambodia, Armenia, Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, and Ukraine are just some of the places where March 8th is recognized as an official holiday.

5. It’s a combined celebration with Mother’s Day in several places.

In the same way that Mother’s Day doubles as a sort of women’s appreciation day, the two holidays are combined in some countries, including Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Uzbekistan. On this day, children present their mothers and grandmothers with small gifts and tokens of love and appreciation.

6. Each year's festivities have an official theme.

In 1996, the UN created a theme for that year’s International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future. In 1997, it was “Women at the Peace Table,” then “Women and Human Rights” in 1998. They’ve continued this themed tradition in the years since; for 2019, it's “Better the balance, better the world” or #BalanceforBetter.

Presidents Day vs. President's Day vs. Presidents' Day: Which One Is It?

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iStock

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" implies that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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