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."

30 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in May

iStock.com/Wildroze
iStock.com/Wildroze

From May Day to Memorial Day and everything in between, the month of May is full of delightful, offbeat holidays.

  1. May 1: Lei Day

You've heard of May Day, but this is the Hawaiian equivalent. Celebrate the islands' culture with lei-making contests, Hawaiian food and music, and even the crowning of the Lei Queen.

  1. May 1: Mother Goose Day

Founded in 1987 by Gloria T. Delamar in conjunction with the publication of her book, Mother Goose: From Nursery to Literature, this is a day to "re-appreciate" the old nursery rhymes.

  1. May 1: New Homeowners Day

One could argue that getting out of the rental game is a celebration in itself, but here's a holiday for brand new homeowners anyway. (A Risky Business-style dance party would be one good way to party with all that room.)

  1. May 3: National Two Different Colored Shoes Day

For people who want to practice a safe level of nonconformity.

  1. May 4: Star Wars Day

     Darth Vader and two stormtroopers from the film 'Star Wars' stand menacingly over some road works in London's Oxford Street in 1980.
    Central Press/Getty Images

May the fourth be with you!

  1. May 4: Free Comic Book Day

Ever since 2002, the first Saturday of May has seen participating independent comic book stores across the country hand out their wares for free. Over 3 million comic books are given away each year.

  1. May 4: International Respect For Chickens Day

You might appreciate them for the sustenance they provide, or you might appreciate them so much that you don’t use them for sustenance. Either way, celebrate the chicken today.

  1. May 6: No Homework Day

We assume this applies to kids and adults alike.

  1. May 7: National Cosmopolitan Day

We love a holiday with a built-in way to celebrate: in this case, with Carrie Bradshaw's favorite cocktail.

  1. May 8: No Socks Day

    Baby taking first steps
    iStock.com/simonkr

The pitch for this holiday cites the lighter load of laundry foregoing socks will create. This seems specious at best—how big are your socks?— but let's all hope it will be sandal weather by this point, in which case you can and should definitely go without socks.

  1. May 10: Stay Up All Night Night

Staying up all night pretty much always leads to some great stories.

  1. May 11: Eat What You Want Day

The best holidays encourage you to break some dietary rules and this one might be the best of all because it encourages you to break all of them.

  1. May 11: National Babysitter’s Day

Because, let's be real: their job isn't always easy.

  1. May 11: National Train Day

National Train Day celebrates when the "golden spike" was driven into the final tie in Promontory Summit, Utah, to connect the Central Pacific and Union Continental railroads, creating a country unified by 1776 miles of train track.

  1. May 12: National Limerick Day

Observed annually on the birthday of English author Edward Lear, whose 1846 A Book of Nonsense helped bring the lyrical form to popularity.

  1. May 13: National Hummus Day

    A fresh bowl of hummus with cucumbers
    iStock.com/TheCrimsonMonkey

Give us all the food holidays.

  1. May 14: Underground America Day

Underground America Day honors those who make their homes not just on Earth, but in it. It was invented by architect Malcolm Wells in 1974 and those who wish to celebrate can do so by doing things like riding the subway, burying treasure, eating root vegetables, or thinking about moles.

  1. May 16: Biographers Day

This is celebrated annually on the anniversary of the 1763 meeting in London between James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, which launched one of the most famous author-subject relationships and produced the biographies Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides and Life of Samuel Johnson.

  1. May 16: Mimosa Day

What would brunch be without them?

  1. May 17: National Bike To Work Day

We can't promise you won't arrive to the office slightly sweaty, but we can give you permission to skip the gym after completing your cycling commute.

  1. May 17: National Pizza Party Day

    A table full of freshly made pizzas
    iStock.com/AlexeyBorodin

Party is a relative term, by the way. You and a pizza is definitely a party.

  1. May 18: International Museum Day

On this day, the entire planet celebrates museums and all the amazing things they have to offer. We recommend checking for events and activities in your area: Hundreds of thousands of museums join the party every year.

  1. May 20: Eliza Doolittle Day

Today is a good day to channel your inner Eliza (either before or after the etiquette lessons).

  1. May 22: National Maritime Day

A Presidential Proclamation issued in 1933 made this day an official holiday dedicated to recognizing the maritime industry. It is set to coincide with the date in 1819 that the American steamship Savannah set sail on the first ever transoceanic voyage under steam power.

  1. May 22: World Goth Day

They'll act like they don't want/need/care about having a day in the calendar, but come on, everyone wants to be celebrated.

  1. May 23: World Turtle Day

    A green turtle approaching the surface of the water
    iStock.com/Searsie

Celebrate by reading 20 things you didn't know about sea turtles right here.

  1. May 24: International Tiara Day

Who's a pretty princess? Anyone who wants to celebrate Tiara Day.

  1. May 25: National Tap Dance Day

The perfect day to put on your dancing shoes.

  1. May 25: Towel Day

To honor author Douglas Adams, fans carry around a towel all day. The tradition is a nod to a passage in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy about the importance of towels: "A towel, [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have." Good enough for us.

  1. May 30: Loomis Day

This is a day to honor Mahlon Loomis, a oft-forgotten Washington D.C.-based dentist who received the first U.S. patent on a wireless telegraphy system in 1872—before Guglimo Marconi, who is credited with inventing the first radio, was even born.

Vermont and Maine Are Replacing Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples' Day

David Ryder/Getty Images
David Ryder/Getty Images

The narrative surrounding Christopher Columbus has shifted in recent years, leading some U.S. states and cities to reconsider glorifying the figure with his own holiday. If the governors of Vermont and Maine sign their new bills into law, the two states will become the latest places to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, CNN reports.

In 1971, the Uniform Holiday Bill went into effect, officially designating Columbus Day as a federal holiday to be celebrated on the second Monday of October. The holiday was originally meant to recognize the "discovery" of America—a version of history that erases the people already living on the continent when Columbus arrived and ignores the harm he inflicted.

As Columbus's popularity decreases in the U.S., some places have embraced Indigenous Peoples' Day: A day dedicated to Native American culture in history. The holiday is already observed in Seattle, Washington; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Alaska. Earlier this year, Sandusky, Ohio announced they would swap Columbus Day for Voting Day and give municipal workers the election Tuesday of November off instead.

Indigenous Peoples' Day has been celebrated in place of Columbus Day in Vermont for the past few years, but a new bill would make the change permanent. The Vermont state legislature has voted yes on the bill, and now it just needs approval from Governor Phil Scott, which he says he plans to give. If he passes the law, it will go into effect on October 14, 2019 (the date Columbus Day falls on this year).

Maine voted on a similar bill in March, and it gained approval from both the state's Senate and House of Representatives. Like Governor Scott, Maine governor Janet Mills plans on signing her state's bill and making the holiday official.

Regardless of the legal status of Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations take place across the country every October. South Dakota hosts Native American Day festivities at the Crazy Horse Memorial each year, and in Seattle, Indigenous Peoples celebrations last a whole week.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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