Friday, February 9th, 2024

Happy New Year, Ohio

Chinese New Year aims to bring families together

By Abigail Miller
Photo from Associated Press

A man and a toddler are silhouetted as they pose for a souvenir photo with a giant dragon lantern decorated near the popular Houhai Lake in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Chinese will celebrate Lunar New Year on Feb. 10 this year which marks the Year of the dragon on the Chinese zodiac. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

CELINA - The holiday season isn't over yet.

Saturday is Lunar New Year, an occasion for people to bring their entire family together and set good intentions for the next 12 months.

Otherwise known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, the holiday is based on the lunar calendar and occurs anywhere from mid-January to mid-February. Saturday marks the beginning of the year of the Dragon and the end of the year of the Rabbit.

While modern China adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, traditional festivals like the Lunar New Year still follow the lunar calendar.

The holiday is also celebrated as Seollal in South Korea and Tet in Vietnam.

Chris White, assistant director of East Asian studies at Ohio State University, said Lunar New Year is as big as Christmas in certain corners of the world.

"In terms of the importance, it's the biggest holiday (in Eastern Asian countries)," he said. "Family comes together, you get a vacation off of school and all of these things."

The Dragon is traditionally is a symbol of strength, White said.

"There are 12 zodiac cycles, but the Dragon is a little special," he added. "It would be kind of like an extra lucky year."

Each year in the 12-year lunar cycle is associated with a particular animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

During the cycle, observers celebrate their lucky year once every 12 years, White said.

"If it's your year, it's kind of meant to be a little bit lucky and you may do certain things. Like, it's typical that you would wear something red every day that year," White said. "Maybe it's a belt or socks, or some people wear red underwear, not necessarily totally visible. That would be meant to say, 'Hey … this is my year and this is going to bring me extra luck.'"

There's also a cycle of five elements - wood, fire, metal, water and earth - within the 12-year zodiac cycle, White added.

It takes a person 60 years to simultaneously experience both the element and sign they were born under, he continued.

"Your 60th birthday would kind of even be even more special," White said.

Photo from Associated Press

Residents take souvenir photo of a tree decorated with red lanterns ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year at Ditan Park in Beijing, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Chinese will celebrate Lunar New Year on Feb. 10 this year which marks the Year of the dragon on the Chinese zodiac. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

East Asian studies graduate student Juncheng Zhu said food plays an important role in Spring Festival, specifically the family dinner on the eve of the new year.

The choice of dishes varies, reflecting family customs and local culinary traditions. Often it includes dumplings, spring rolls, cakes, fish and pork dishes. There is also a fair amount of drinking, especially traditional wines or liquor. Many of the dishes are assigned symbolic meanings. For instance, dumplings are given the shape of gold ingots to invoke good fortune.

White's wife hails from Northeastern China, where it's tradition to put a coin in a dumpling for additional good luck.

"You take one coin just like a penny and you put it in one of the dumplings," White said. "If you get the coin, then that's your special year. You're going to have even more luck."

Lunar New Year is ushered in with fireworks.

"Oftentimes you would stay up until midnight and maybe even have an extra meal at midnight, especially of dumplings," he said. "Then there may be fireworks that were set off at midnight, to kind of mark the beginning of the new year."

The tradition traces back to the legend of Nian, a monster which inflicted great harm on villages. Villagers are said to have set off explosions to scare off the monster, and the practice caught on.

Ohioans are allowed to discharge consumer fireworks from 4-11 p.m. on certain holidays, including Lunar New Year. Allowable fireworks include bottle rockets, firecrackers and Roman candles.

Unlike Christmas, gifts are not exchanged during Spring Festival, however red packets of money are handed out to the youth.

"Any relative, any friend of the family, you go and you visit people at this time and you would give the children a red packet," White said. "Really it's anybody who's not yet working. Even if they're a university student, if they don't have a full-time job yet, they can still qualify to get the money."

Photo from Associated Press

Residents shop for prosperity decorations at a pavement shop on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The Lunar New Year is a celebration marking the arrival of spring and the start of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. It's the most important holiday in China where it's observed as the Spring Festival which fall on Feb. 10. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Decorations abound in Chinese New Year celebrations. Red couplets or banners are put up the week before the holiday.

"It would be kind of like a banner on the left and the right of your doorpost," White said. "It would just have some good phrase, like, 'The family will be happy this year,' or 'Everybody will get rich.'"

Spring Festival lasts about 15 days and concludes with the carrying of lanterns.

"Traditionally kids would go around the city with a lantern, which would have paper decoration and a light inside," White said. "At night you would hold it up on with a stick and walk around. That would kind of be like the end of the New Year's season."

Though there are 12 zodiac cycles, the year of the Dragon is special, White reiterated.

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"It would be kind of like an extra lucky year, an extra important year," he said. "It's a good time to kind of educate Ohioans about it, because it's a special year."

- The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Photo from Associated Press

Visitors tour underneath a giant dragon lantern reflected on the frozen Houhai Lake in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Chinese will celebrate Lunar New Year on Feb. 10 this year which marks the Year of the dragon on the Chinese zodiac. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

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