When we lived in San Francisco, the city shut down public schools and made the first day of Lunar New Year a holiday. I read New York City does as well. I researched the holiday and put together the Cliff Notes version (or Idiot’s Guide?) for the non-Chinese folks:
- Year of the Monkey: the Lunar New Year is based on the lunisolar calendar (not the Gregorian, as the US and most of the world does) which charts time based on the movements of the moon and sun. This means that the holiday usually falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20, and this year it falls on Feb. 8. The holiday period lasts for 15 days.
- Spring Festival is a synonym for Lunar New Year. It is celebrated in many Asian countries including Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. Of course, it’s now celebrated in the US as well, with San Francisco hosting the largest Lunar New Year parade.
- The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 years, and each year is associated with an animal. I am a Tiger (NOT a Tiger-mom), have married a Tiger and my children are a Monkey, a Pig/Boar, and a Dragon. Apparently a Dragon girl is very auspicious. The animal is also paired with an element, and this year the monkey is paired with “fire.”
- No drunks here. There is no raucous drinking and ballyhooing on the eve of Lunar New Year; instead it is traditionally a time spent quietly with family. In recent decades the holiday has become more of a cultural celebration than a religious one. The Chinese government instituted a weeklong public holiday to celebrate the new year.
- Giving red envelopes (lai see or hongbao) are a tradition of married people giving a monetary gift to children and those who are not married. The red color symbolizes good luck and wards off evil spirits. The amount of money inside usually ends in an even number and never involves the number 4, which is pronounced similar to the word for death.
More on the Year of the Fire Monkey can be found here.