Goodbye Ox, Hello Tiger: A Celebration of Lunar New Year

From dragons to red envelopes, an examination of the spirit behind the holiday.


James Zhang

While many cities, including New York City, put on a parade full of traditional dancing, the Bronx High School of Science has a production of their own. Every year, the school’s Lunar New Year Productions club puts on a show filled with traditional dances such as this Lion Dance, in order to commemorate the beginning of the New Year.

While many in New York City had to spend February 1st, 2022, cooped up in their homes attempting to celebrate to the best of their abilities, out of concern over the Omicron variant of COVID-19, this is not how the typical Lunar New Year begins. On this day, many individuals rang in the new year with traditions, good food, and even better company, but with pandemic restrictions in place. As the name suggests, Lunar New Year is celebrated at the beginning of a new year, but it also celebrates the beginning of Spring. 

In America, the new year is celebrated with  New Year’s Eve parties, with many counting down until 12 am on January 1st and yelling out “Happy New Year” while surrounded by friends and family. While January 1st is always New Year Day for those who follow the Gregorian calendar, the Lunar calendar is not as consistent. The new year begins on the darkest day of the first month of the lunar cycle, or on the first new moon after January 20th of a given year. 

The history of the Lunar New Year is full of legends, passed down through generations of celebration and storytelling. One legend is that of Nian. Nian was a beast who feasted on humans on New Year’s Day. However, Nian feared the color red, loud noises, and fire. This is said to be the beginning of the use of red paper decorations on doors, lanterns burning all night, and firecrackers being lit all day long. At the end of the day, it was believed that the only way Nian could be kept away was with these tactics. These adornments may seem familiar because they are what characterize the physical appearance of the Lunar New Year to this day, for many Americans.

Lunar New Year and its traditions really begin a few days before the day of celebration. Cleaning the house and shopping consume most of the days leading up to the New Year. Not to mention, one must coordinate with family, friends, in order to make sure that everyone will be available for the celebrations. Lunar New Year celebrations revolve around setting off firecrackers and fireworks, and making offerings to one’s ancestors. Ancestors play a large role in the cultures of those who follow the Lunar calendar; those who celebrate consider it promising to begin the year by remembering all of those who came before them. Pop culture further demonstrates this notion in movies such as Mulan with songs like ‘Ancestors, Hear My Pleas.’ The homes of many are adorned in red decorations, lanterns, and couplets celebrating spring. Another hallmark of the Lunar New Year celebration is to honor children by handing out red envelopes filled with lucky money. However, most importantly New Year is characterized by the reunion lunch or dinner that occurs filled with food and laughter. Traditional Lunar New Year foods include longevity noodles, a whole steamed fish that represents abundance, and sticky rice balls representing togetherness, to name just a few.

While in the past, the Lunar New Year was defined by family reunions and large gatherings, the past two years and this year will look a little different. The ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic has forced many Lunar New Year gatherings to have at least some members join the celebrations virtually, either because of travel restrictions or COVID-19 concerns. (Simon2579 / Unsplash)

Last year, which I spent in Taiwan, was the first time in six years where I saw family and got to embrace a part of my heritage. I was able to feel connected to my family since I’m more mature now, and I now understand that aspect of Lunar New Year,” said Asuka Koda ’23. Many aspects of the Lunar New Year are better understood with age. But no matter how old you are, the food and the celebrations all come secondary to the joy that is felt when reuniting with your family. 

Lunar New Year is also commemorated with the beginning of a new animal sign, as each Chinese year is associated with the Chinese zodiac cycle, which includes twelve animal signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. This current 2022 year is the year of the tiger. The tiger is associated with strength, bravery, and exercising evils. 2022 is also a water tiger year, which only occurs once every 60 years. People born in a year of the Tiger will experience their zodiac year (called “Ben Ming Nian”) in 2022, which is considered bad luck. It is believed that wearing red will bring them good luck. So while everyone will decorate with red, those born in other Tiger years will wear red to ward off any bad luck that may be inflicted upon them this year. 

The Lunar New Year is flooded with wishes for a year filled with happiness, longevity, and good fortune. 

Last year, which I spent in Taiwan, was the first time in six years where I saw family and got to embrace a part of my heritage. I was able to feel connected to my family since I’m more mature now, and I now understand that aspect of Lunar New Year,” said Asuka Koda ’23.