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Lunar New Year 2022 – Celebrating the Year of the Tiger

Bidding the Ox farewell, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, heralded in the Year of the Tiger and with it, the hope for growth and change – much-needed sentiments for the Asian community, which due to the coronavirus pandemic, has experienced an unprecedented volume of hate crimes, violence, and discrimination, resulting in a 339 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes compared to 2020.

Despite these setbacks, Lunar New Year remains one of the most popular and significant occasions for individuals of Asian heritage, offering a chance to reunite with friends and family, eat delicious meals, engage in various festivities, and heal and reflect over the previous year. Here’s a brief overview of this memorable spectacle that could potentially turn into a U.S. federal holiday, advancing recognition of Asian American perspectives, experiences, and cultures and commemorating the instrumental contributions and sacrifices of these diverse groups.

Lunar new year basics

Celebrated by nearly 2 billion people, Lunar New Year, also referred to as the Spring Festival, is an international holiday observed throughout East and Southeast Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, as well as among Asian diasporas.

Unlike the Gregorian calendar beginning on Jan. 1, many Asian cultures follow a lunar calendar based on the moon’s 12 phases. As a result, Lunar New Year occurs on different dates between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 and lasts for several days, culminating with the Lantern Festival, which marks the first full moon. This year the New Year period began on Feb. 1 and will end on Feb. 15.

During this time, people gather with relatives and friends to usher in a new era of prosperity and luck, partaking in various traditions such as hosting grand feasts, cleaning out homes, watching firework shows and parades, and visiting religious temples.

Conventional greetings include Gong Hei Fat Choy (恭喜發財), Cantonese for “wishing you prosperity” or Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (新年快乐), Mandarin for “Happy New Year.”

NowThisNews/YouTube

significance

Like Western New Year’s Eve/Day celebrations, Lunar New Year represents rebirth and reunion, signaling the transition from winter to a season of renewal and prospects. It’s a time to put the past behind and focus on the future, take advantage of opportunities, and embrace oneself.

Although it’s a secular holiday, it incorporates cultural aspects derived from Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism as well as ancient myths and folk customs, and is honored globally, including in major American cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

festival origins

Originating in the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century BC, Lunar New Year has several legends, the most common involving a ferocious beast named Nian – Chinese for “year” – that prowled towns and attacked villagers each spring. To combat the mythical creature, people used bright lights, loud noises such as firecrackers, and red decorations, driving the monster away and leading to traditional dragon dances, firework shows, lantern festivals, and red as an auspicious color.

Historically, it stems from China’s agricultural-based society, arising as a ceremony to worship the gods and pray for a good harvest, not too dissimilar from the Mid-Autumn Festival, another prominent Asian festival saluting the autumnal harvest.

TED-Ed/YouTube

year of the tiger

Following the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches System, each Lunar Year is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, repeating in “earthly” cycles of the: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Additionally, each animal corresponds to one of five “heavenly” elements – earth, water, fire, wood, and metal – which provide nuance to the general zodiac description and emphasize the interdependence and balance of these relationships.

2022 designates the Year of the Tiger, specifically the water tiger, the first since 1962. The tiger symbolizes bravery, strength, wisdom, leadership, and resilience. Individuals born within tiger years are courageous, assertive, competitive, confident, and inspiring yet can quickly become aggressive, arrogant, stubborn, and domineering.

Given the sign’s disposition as a guardian and vanquisher of evil, the tiger embodies propitious and uplifting archetypal traits, especially placed within the context of Covid-19. For many, this fierce being signifies change and perseverance from both the virus itself and the pandemic-fueled racism.  

traditions and celebrations

Various Asian cultures have distinct ways of commemorating the new year but spending time with friends and family, eating traditional foods, adorning red and gold, and watching massive parades are staples.

In China, millions travel to celebrate with their families, hosting large outdoor banquets and watching displays featuring dragon and lion dances, fireworks, acrobatic performances, and boat races. Elders hand out red envelopes called hong bao containing money to children as gifts and many people wear or hang up red and gold decorations, as these colors indicate good fortune and ward off angry spirits. Other activities include thorough home cleanings, lantern lightings, honoring ancestors, and visiting religious temples.

In Vietnam, people celebrate Tết and decorate their homes with fresh flowers such as peach blossoms, red gladiolas, orchids, and kumquats for well-being. Meanwhile, in Korea, they recognize Seollal, which lasts for three days, and participate in Charye, a ritual honoring deceased relatives that grant blessings for the upcoming year.

Food is a crucial component of celebrations and carries symbolic meaning, with many families preparing large feasts together. For instance, long noodles imply longevity while fish typifies surplus, thus an abundance of wealth, success, and joy for the new year. Dumplings, nian gao (rice cakes), and spring rolls comprise more favorable dishes.

The Vietnamese eat bánh chung (rice cakes) and worship ancestors by making mứt tết (a tray of sweets) and placing it at family altars. South Koreans consume tteokguk, a rice cake soup representing age and fresh beginnings, and gift spam, while Malaysians enjoy yusheng, a traditional raw fish entre.

NBC News/YouTube
Anna van Eekeren is a second-year Entertainment and Media Studies pursuing a Film Studies minor and the New Media Certificate. She is passionate about social justice, culture, media, and the environment. She enjoys reading, writing, playing video games, listening to music, swimming, traveling, and taking personality quizzes.
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