Celebrating Lunar New Year

Xīn Nián Hǎo! Gong Hei Fat Choy! Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Saehae Bok Mani Badeuseyo! Manigong Bagong Taon! Happy (Lunar) New Year! What better away to chase away the winter doldrums than to welcome spring in a celebration of family, friends, and community during the Lunar New Year! Celebrated in China (Chūnjié or Spring Festival), Vietnam (Tết Nguyên Đán), Korea (Seollal), the Philippines (Media Noche), and other (but not all) Asian countries and communities throughout the world, the Lunar New Year brings hope for good luck and prosperity throughout the new year.

When Is Lunar New Year?

Arguably, this is the most commonly asked question in the western world surrounding the Lunar New Year. Since the date is based on the moon’s cycles with each cycle lasting about 29 days, the first date of the lunar new year varies each year, falling between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 on the Gregorian calendar depending on the year. In 2024, the first day (i.e., the first new moon) of the new lunar calendar is Feb. 10.

Lunar New Year Celebrations In Pennsylvania

You will find several Lunar New Year celebrations in Pennsylvania, many of which feature fun and festive lion and/or dragon dances, delicious traditional foods, and a chance to try your hand at various Asian crafts.

Lunar New Year at The Maridon Museum

With its outstanding collection of Asian art, The Maridon Museum invites you to celebrate Lunar New Year during its Chinese New Year’s celebration. There will be musical entertainment, an exciting scavenger hunt, and, of course, delicious hors d’oeuvres and other refreshments. The dress code is casual business attire for this fun event.

When: Feb. 9
Where: Butler    
Cost: $60; Must call to reserve tickets before Feb. 2   

Lunar New Year at the Philadelphia Rail Park

Dive into the vibrant cultural traditions of Lunar New Year as the Rail Park of Philadelphia hosts its 5th Annual Lunar New Year Celebration! A holiday symbolizing hope and prosperity, immerse yourself with exciting performances including a ballet showcase and K-Pop workshop, as well as admiring the captivating lion dance performance by the Philadelphia Suns. Attend this unforgettable event featuring family-friendly crafts, light refreshments, and a sense of community at the former historic Reading and Pennsylvania Railroad lines in the heart of the city.

When: Feb. 10    
Where: Philadelphia 
Cost: Free 

Hershey Chocolate World Lunar New Year Celebration

It’s the Year of the Dragon and Hershey Chocolate World is celebrating! On Feb. 10, enjoy a performance by the KyoDaiko Drummers using authentic Japanese taiko drums.

When: Feb. 10    
Where: Hershey    
Cost: Free   

Lunar New Year Celebration at Pearl S. Buck International

Embracing Pearl S. Buck’s deep love for the people of China after the many years she spent in the country, Pearl S. Buck International is ushering in the Year of the Dragon with a super fun and family-friendly Lunar New Year celebration. There will be live dance performances, including the Lion Dance; traditional costumes on display; a dumpling tasting and yoyo demonstration; interactive games; a puppet show; a variety of fun crafts including making a fire-breathing dragon, fan, or hand drum; and lessons on Chinese calligraphy and paper cutting. You can also tour the Pearl S. Buck house during the event.

When: Feb. 10    
Where: Perkasie    
Cost: Free or pay what you wish   

HAAPI Lunar New Year Celebration at Open Stage

Harrisburg Asian American Pacific Islander invites you to celebrate the lunar new year with them to learn about Asian cultures in a fun and engaging way with performances by the Harrisburg Acehnese Girls, the Selahart Group, Sunshine Dance Club, and individuals from the Chinese Culture & Arts Institute.

When: Feb. 10    
Where: Harrisburg    
Cost: $20   

Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance and Parade

Here’s your chance to see a traditional Lion Dance and parade through Chinatown, complete with firecrackers to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity and good luck in the upcoming year. The Philadelphia Suns is a philanthropic organization based in Philly’s Chinatown providing sports and cultural activities for the Asian community and sharing their amazing culture with the greater community. The Philadelphia Suns will be performing the lion dance at various locales throughout the Philadelphia Region.

When: Feb. 11    
Where: Philadelphia    
Cost: Free   

Dilworth Park Lunar New Year

No need to strap on ice skates (but you can if you want to!) for the Lunar New Year celebration at Dilworth Park. Along with performances by the Philadelphia Suns and the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, there will be a delicious menu in the Rothman Orthopaedics Cabin and Chinese crafts for kids in the cabin

When: Feb. 17    
Where: Philadelphia    
Cost: Free   

Lunar New Year Celebration at Franklin Square

Historic Philadelphia, Inc. invites you to celebrate the Year of the Dragon in Franklin Square. There will be live performances by the Philly Suns Lion Dancers, crafts for the kids with the Asian Arts Initiative, red envelope surprise giveaways, and a free dumpling workshop with Michael Chow from Sang See, Peking Duck House.

When: Feb. 17    
Where: Philadelphia    
Cost: Free   

Lunar New Year Celebration in Lancaster

Lancaster Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (LAAPI) invite you to join them at Ewell Plaza and Binns Park to celebrate the 2024 Lunar New Year. This family-friendly, multi-cultural celebration includes lion dance and Korean drumming performances, a scavenger hunt with fun prizes, and, of course, lots of delicious foods from local vendors.

When: Feb. 18    
Where: Lancaster    
Cost: Free   

Learn more? Keep reading for more on the Lunar New Year

Which Zodiac Animal Marks This Lunar Year?

This is perhaps the second most commonly asked question surrounding the lunar new year. In China and several other Asian countries, each lunar year corresponds to one of the 12 animals of the zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig, each with its own unique qualities and characteristics.

But did you know that each animal also has one of five elements assigned to it, so the zodiac and calendar is actually based on a 60-year cycle? For example, 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, specifically the Wood Dragon, while in 2000 it was the year of the Metal or Gold Dragon. The three other elements are: Earth, Fire, and Water, each of which, in combination with a particular zodiac animal, occurs only once in every 60-year cycle. Next year will be the Year of the Wood Snake starting on Jan. 29, while it will be the Year of the Fire Horse in 2026.

What does all this mean? Just like astrological signs based on celestial bodies, those born during each lunar year will share several traits and characteristics based on the particular zodiac animal and its accompanying element. Similarly, horoscopes are also developed each year based on the animal and its accompanying element for that year, foretelling what you can expect in the year ahead.

Lunar New Year Celebrations

While hundreds of millions of people throughout the world celebrate the lunar new year, each culture has its own unique traditions, many of which are based on folklore. There are differences in the types of special foods served, the ways in which the new year is celebrated, and for how long the lunar new year celebration lasts.

For example, in China the lunar new year celebration lasts for over two weeks starting with the appearance of the new moon and ending with that of the full moon and the Lantern Festival. In contrast, the Korean celebration of the lunar new year lasts for three days with festivities generally starting before the new year begins, while Vietnamese celebrate for five to seven days.

Lunar New Year Parades, Dragon and Lion Dances, Firecrackers, and Banging Drums

Parades with stylized and very energetic lions and dragons dancing to the sounds of drums, gongs, and cymbals, performers in vibrant traditional costumes, colorful floats, and firecrackers are all a hallmark of Chinese New Year celebrations. Designed to bring prosperity and good fortune in the upcoming year and to ward off evil spirits, thousands of years of folklore and tradition underly today’s Chinese New Year parades, as well as those of other Asian countries.

Dragons first took on a ceremonial role in Chinese society more than 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty to honor ancestors and pray for rain, a role that has changed over the centuries. Today’s dragons are most often seen as benevolent beings symbolizing wisdom, wealth, and power and that bring good luck. It takes several people to hold up the long, serpent-like body of a Chinese dragon as it dances and winds its way along the parade route, often leaping upward trying to catch a large ball known as the “pearl of wisdom,” symbolizing the dragon’s constant pursuit of wisdom.

The history underlying the lion dance is perhaps less well known, but is thought to have originated about 1,800 years ago when lions first appeared in China with a ceremonial dance featuring lions performed at the court of the Tang dynasty and soon after in local celebrations. Today, the lion is seen as both a noble guardian and purveyor of prosperity, i.e., a being that is both wise and powerful.

The lion costume features an overly large, highly stylized head of lion held up by a person that also is the lion’s front legs, with a second person forming the remaining part of the lion. Lions are often seen chasing heads of lettuce (a sign of prosperity) and spitting pieces out once they catch it. In this way, a lion is spreading wealth, good luck, and prosperity to the individuals and businesses along its path.

Setting off fireworks and banging cymbals, drums, and gongs are also a hallmark of Chinese New Year parades and celebrations. Once again, drawing on folklore and tradition, the loud noises are believed to chase away evil spirits.

The Color Red

Red is a powerful and important color in many Asian countries and cultures, symbolizing joy, power, good luck, and prosperity, and playing a prominent role in many celebrations, especially the Lunar New Year. The color red features prominently in Chinese society and its celebrations, incorporated into Chinese architecture, bridal dresses, birthday celebrations, decorations, and in abundance during the new year celebrations with red lanterns, couplets, and paper cuttings decorating Chinese homes and businesses to help ensure a prosperous year.

The emergence of the color red and its importance in China can be traced back thousands of years when, according to legend, the mythical and scary beast, Nian, appeared and wrought havoc each New Year until the year a child dressed in red scared it away. Decorating one’s home and doorways in red (and other traditional measures) ensures Nian can never return. In addition, red envelopes, known as hóng bāo in China, are often given to children filled with “lucky money” during the lunar new year in China and other Asian countries.

Traditional Foods

Food plays a very important role in Asian celebrations of the lunar new year, drawing on tradition, folklore, and culture. In Chinese homes, fish is often served during Chinese New Year to bring an increase in wealth with the type of fish also holding specific symbolic meanings. Dumplings, spring rolls, and glutinous rice cakes are also eaten to ensure prosperity and an increase in wealth throughout the new year, while “longevity noodles” are served in a wish for a long life and are never cut. Other traditional foods are tied to family unity and happiness.

In Korean homes, Tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is a traditional dish served during the lunar new year celebration to ensure good luck with the round shape of the rice cake slices representing ancient round coins signifying wealth and prosperity. Other traditional Korean dishes include Kimchi mandu, or Korean dumplings, Jeon, which is a type of Korean pancake that often contains green (spring) onions, Japchae or “Korean glass noodles,” Hobak jeon or fried zucchini, and Nokdujeon, a mung bean pancake.

Bánh Chưng and Bánh Tét (glutinous rice cakes) are among the most traditional foods served in Vietnam for the lunar new year. The first is in a square shape that harkens back to ancient times when the earth was believed to be square and honors the role of rice in the country’s rich agricultural heritage and one’s ancestors, while the second is very similar but round in shape. Other traditional dishes include Thịt Kho trứng, a dish featuring braised pork in coconut juice with eggs, Củ Kiệu pickled scallion head, and Tôm khô or dried shrimp.

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