How Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world

From turnip cake to the color red, let’s take a look at what Lunar New Year is all about and how it is enjoyed across the world.

Red and gold decorations are used to celebrate Lunar New Year across the world. Image credit: Toa55/iStock
Red and gold decorations are used to celebrate Lunar New Year across the world. Image credit: Toa55/iStock

Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, Tết. These are just a few of the names given to the celebration of new beginnings, which has at its core strong threads of togetherness and family.

Lunar New Year is not only celebrated in China, but it is also celebrated around the world. Festivities take place in Vietnam, Singapore, Korea, and Malaysia, just to name a few.

More than three billion trips are expected to be made in China during “Chunyun”, the 40-day period between January 10 and February 18, when many make their way home to be with their families.

The celebrations center around the lunar calendar, a system based on the monthly cycles of the moon’s phases. The exact date for the Lunar New Year can range between January 21 and February 20. This year, the new moon will appear on January 25.

Chung Ka Yau, a junior visual designer at global chauffeur company Blacklane, said Lunar New Year for his family is a traditional Chinese festival, complete with red and gold colors, firecrackers, and lion dance.

“[It is] also something that everyone can get involved and be a part of the culture, because it’s all about togetherness and blessing for your loved ones,” he said.

Firecrackers and the monster Nián

The colors red and gold symbolize good luck, joy, and happiness in Chinese culture, but why are firecrackers and lion dances popular elements of the festival? It could be something to do with the myth of Nián (年), a monster who, in ancient times, would rise from the surface of the ocean once a year to consume animals and humans alike.

According to the myth, the villagers who would often hide from the monster discovered one day that the beast was afraid of loud noises and the color red. The villagers lit firecrackers and covered their doorways in red to ward off the monster, a tradition which has carried on ever since. It’s believed the lion dance is performed each new moon cycle to bring prosperity and chase away evil spirits.

Nowadays, many families use this celebration, which lasts for 15 days from Lunar New Year, as a way to connect with each other.

Lion dances are common sights among Lunar New Year celebrations. Image credit: LeeYiuTung/iStock
Lion dances are common sights among Lunar New Year celebrations. Image credit: LeeYiuTung/iStock

Food, glorious food

Chung said his favorite part of the celebrations was visiting the pre-Lunar-New-Year markets in Hong Kong with his family and eating special Lunar New Year cakes.

“The most popular and common ones are turnip cake, or radish cake, and sweet rice cake,” he said.

“Turnip cake is made of radish, Chinese cured ham, shiitake mushroom, and tiny dried shrimp. Sweet rice cake is made of cane sugar and glutinous rice flour. There is also taro cake and water chestnut cake and of course, they are usually served in the family dinner during Lunar New Year.”

Foods play a major part in the celebrations and vary across the world. In Korea for instance, no Lunar New Year (or Seollal as it is more commonly called) is complete without a steaming bowl of tteokguk, a meat stock-based soup with rice cakes. It is said you can’t become a year older until you’ve eaten a bowl of this soup, which holds symbolic importance through both the color of the white tteok, or rice cake, which signifies purity, and its round-shape, meant to resemble Korea’s old coins.

In Singapore, lapis, rolled egg biscuits, keuh bangkit, coconut biscuits, and bak kwa, grilled meats, abound during the festivities, including the Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner, considered one of the most important meals shared during the festival.

Families prepare special meals to have during Lunar New Year. Image credit: Bonchan/iStock
Turnip cake is enjoyed by families for Lunar New Year. Image credit: Bonchan/iStock

Sharing time with family

Chung said his fondest memory of Lunar New Year was going on a hike with his family when he was a child.

“Many people don’t celebrate it the traditional way but I think the core idea is just to spend time with your family and express gratitude for them,” he said.

Like many other cultures around the world who celebrate the Lunar New Year, adults often give a red and gold, beautifully decorated envelope filled with money to children and the elderly to celebrate their new age, Huynh said.

The year of the rat

There are 12 Chinese zodiac animals used to represent years, with 2020 being the year of the rat. There are many legends as to how the zodiac system came about, with one stating the 12 animals were used as palace guards for the Jade Emperor in China.

The animals in the zodiac are the rat, ox/buffalo, tiger, rabbit (or cat), dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

Book a Blacklane airport transfer service for your next family celebration to save travel time, so you have more time to spend with loved ones.


Amy Mitchell-Whittington

Amy is an Australian journalist living in Berlin. She covers a range of topics, with a special interest in tech and science.