Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year vs. Spring Festival

SpringFestivalTip lgIt is called by many names, yet the celebration of the Lunar New Year in many Asian cultures remains the same. It is a holiday based on the lunar calendar, not the Western Gregorian calendar.  The main difference is the Gregorian calendar is based on the earth’s orbit around the sun and the lunar calendar is based on the moon’s orbit around the earth.  As a result, this holiday is always celebrated on the second moon after the winter solstice. This year it happens to be Sunday February 10, 2013.  Among the cultures that celebrate this fun holiday include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Because people from all over the world are now traveling to China, they ask me how this holiday was established, and why it is called Spring Festival versus Chinese New Year in China. After all, isn’t China where Chinese New Year began?

The origin of the Lunar New year is most fascinating.  As with most cultures, many traditions come from mythology and legends of unknown origin. But no matter which culture celebrates this holiday, they all tell the same story of its origin.

The story begins with a monster named Nian.  Each year Nian came down from the mountains or perhaps out from the sea into the village, ravaging the crops and devouring livestock and villagers.  Nian especially enjoyed eating children.

To escape being eaten by the monster each year, villagers fled to visit relatives in other areas.  However, one year an old man chose to remain home.  To protect himself and scare the monster away, he posted big red signs on the door and gate of his house, set off loud firecrackers, and he wore a full-length red robe.

The old man’s efforts worked. When the villagers returned home, they were surprised the old man had survived. The monster Nian, on the other hand, was so frightened he never returned to the village. As a result, the village celebrated each year with red paper on the door, lit firecrackers, and wore new and red clothes.  This tradition lives on to this day.

As to how Chinese New Year became known as Spring Festival, this story is equally if not even more interesting to know. It all began back in 1582, when Jesuit missionaries first introduced the western Gregorian calendar to China.  By 1912 it became the standard calendar used by the general population. China wanted to do all things Western, so it celebrated the January 1 New Year.  In fact, in 1949, the Communist Party forbade the celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year.

However, by the 1980s, new Chinese leaders had a change of heart, and allowed the celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year.  In 1996, China established a weeklong vacation called Spring Festival, giving people the opportunity to travel home to their villages to celebrate the Lunar New Year.  Today, it is the largest movement of people for a holiday anywhere in the world.

Just for Fun:
1. Here’s a short news report about the mass exodus of city folks traveling to visit family during this holiday, called China’s Spring Festival holiday rush starts” (also at

2. On the lighter side, and certainly inappropriate by etiquette standards, is this amusing article called Man Can’t Buy Spring Festival Train Ticket, Protests Naked (also at  It reveals how the Spring Festival travel season is truly most insane.

Reminder:  You still have time to get your act together for Chinese New year:

Happy Practicing!

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