Year of the Metal Ox: celebrating Lunar New Year in 2021

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Welcoming the new year with red lanterns, family reunions, and reflections of the year past

Also known as Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, China isn’t the only country going festive with the annual tradition. Typically, it’s celebrated by people in various parts of Asia and communities elsewhere in the world. Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore, or South Korea — these are just a few that, just like China, observe Lunar New Year. 

Unlike other holidays worldwide whose dates are set in stone, Chinese New Year is based on the traditional lunisolar calendar — the festival starts with the first new moon of the calendar and finishes with the full moon. In 2021, 12 February marks the beginning of the lunar new year, the crowning of the Metal Ox, and the dethroning of the preceding zodiac animal, the Metal Rat.

How do people prepare for the Lunar New Year?

 

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Before a good part of the continent hunkers down to celebrate with their families, preparations are to be made. Not for nothing are the weeks before called the largest annual human migration on earth — thousands of people travel back to their families; seated or standing, often conquering long distances hours or days on end. 

It is also the time for a big cleaning and the whole family, even the little ones, get involved to welcome the new year. The Chinese believe it’s necessary to clear away bad luck from the previous year to make room for the good luck of the year ahead. Once the house is scrubbed spotless, they put up red cut-out decorations that bring happiness and good luck.

What are some of the most important traditions?

Red lanterns hang all over towns and in homes, swaying in front of the door to drive off bad luckRed lanterns hang all over towns and in homes, swaying in front of the door to drive off bad luck — Shutterstock

The Lunar New Year tradition dates back 4,000 years and, despite becoming more modern over time, some traditions and customs have hardly changed.

One legend is that of Nian, a horrendous flesh-eating monster from ancient times. Nian feared the color red, fire, and loud noises, and all of these have a strong presence in today’s celebrations. Red lanterns hang all over towns and in homes, swaying in front of the door to drive off bad luck. People decorate both sides of the front door with red couplets with good wishes or poems written on them. 

Traditionally there’s the noise of firecrackers and fireworks, although in the last few years their use is on the decline due to air pollution measures. 

One of the most important moments of the festivities is being with family. On New Year’s Eve, they sit down together for a family dinner in their homes or hotel restaurants. It’s one of the most important meals of the year, after which, red envelopes with money are given out to the children of the family.  

With technological advances, many of the New Year’s Day hellos and wishes to family and friends have been transformed into an electronic form (and probably for the best in the midst of a global pandemic).

How is the world celebrating in 2021?


The coronavirus situation in China has been stable compared to other parts of the world, and the country seems to be managing with occasional clusters of cases. Yet the government has discouraged all non-essential travel and for many, this holiday is the only chance in the year to see their families, even their children. 

For some Asian communities elsewhere, such as in the US, the usual parades and festivals have been canceled and large family gatherings won’t take place out of respect for the elders.

The year 2021 is the year of the Metal Ox, reflecting strength, determination, and diligence. And that’s what many of us might just need in the upcoming months.

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