(CNN) — Put on your favorite red shirt; it’s time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
Saying goodbye to the Year of the Tiger, we ushered in the Year of the Rabbit on January 22, 2023.
Millions of families around the world are preparing for one of the biggest holidays of the year.
If you’re new to Lunar New Year, here’s a quick guide to the most common traditions and superstitions associated with the Lunar New Year.
Nian Yao Legend
There are countless folktales related to the Lunar New Year, but the myth of “Nian” is the most iconic and interesting.
Legend has it that Nian is a ferocious underwater behemoth with sharp teeth and horns. Every year on Lunar New Year’s Eve, it crawls onto land and attacks nearby villages.
Once, when the villagers went into hiding, a mysterious old man appeared who insisted on staying in the village despite warnings of impending disaster.
To the villagers’ surprise, the old man and the village remained unscathed.
The man claimed to scare Nian away by hanging red banners on doors, lighting firecrackers and wearing red clothes.
That’s why wearing fiery red clothing — including underwear — as well as hanging red banners with auspicious messages and setting off firecrackers or fireworks became Lunar New Year traditions, all of which are still practiced today.
Besides being fun, Lunar New Year can actually be a lot of work.
Celebrations usually last 15 days – or even longer – during which time different quests and activities take place.
It all starts a week or so before New Years.
Before we get started, a quick note: While there are different ways to say “Happy New Year!” depending on where you are, we’re sticking to Mandarin and Cantonese for this story. We have included Romanized versions in both languages in our descriptions of the various traditions.
January 15: Preparations
One week before the Lunar New Year, on the twenty-fourth day of the first lunar month, rice cakes and rice cakes are made.
Cakes and puddings are “高” in Mandarin and “高” in Cantonese, which has the same pronunciation as “高”.
But no Lunar New Year preparations are complete without hanging red banners with auspicious sayings and idioms in your home – starting at your doorstep.
January 19: Final Cleanup
On the twenty-eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, that is, on January 19 this year, the house had a big cleaning.
There are many other rules and superstitions around Chinese New Year.
For example, do not wash or cut your hair on New Year’s Day.
Why? The word “fa” is the first character of the word “fa”. So washing or cutting it is seen as washing away your wealth.
You’ll also want to avoid shopping for footwear throughout the lunar month, as the word for shoe (hai) sounds like lost and sighed in Cantonese.
January 21 (Lunar New Year’s Eve): New Year’s Eve Banquet
Lunar New Year’s Eve, which falls on January 21 this year, is usually celebrated with a grand family reunion dinner.
The menu has been carefully selected to include dishes associated with luck, including fish (the Chinese word sounds like “more than”), puddings (symbolizing progress) and foods that look like gold ingots (such as dumplings).
In China, the food served at these classic dinners varies from north to south. For example, people in northern China like to eat dumplings and noodles, while people in southern China cannot do without rice.
But no matter which dish you prefer, New Year’s goods are a game of words.
January 22 (Lunar New Year): Visiting relatives
The first few days of Chinese New Year, especially the first two days, are often times that test one’s physical strength, appetite and social skills, as many people have to go out to visit immediate family members and other relatives and friends.
Every visiting elder and friend had presents and fruit at home, and they would return presents and snacks after exchanging Chinese New Year treats.
Married people must also give red envelopes to those who are not yet married—whether it is children or unmarried juniors.
It is believed that these red packets can protect children from evil spirits. Known as yasui qian/Ngaat seoi cin, these wraps are designed to ward off these spirits.
January 24: Chi kou/Cek hau, or red mouth
The third day of the Chinese New Year (January 24 this year) is named “chi kou/cek hau”, or red mouth. Arguments are considered more likely on this day, so people visit temples and avoid social interactions.
Every year, certain zodiac signs have negative conflicts with the stars. Visiting the temple is a great way to resolve these conflicts and bring peace in the months ahead.
January 28: People’s Birthday
The seventh day of the Lunar New Year (January 28) is said to be the day the Chinese mother goddess Nuwa created mankind. Hence, it is called renri/jan jat (people’s birthday).
Different communities in Asia offer a variety of birthday foods on this day.
For example, Malaysians like to eat yu sang, a “pao fu” of sashimi and shredded vegetables, while Cantonese like to eat glutinous rice balls.
February 5: Lantern Festival
The highlight of the entire Spring Festival takes place on the fifteenth day of the lunar new year, which is the last day (February 5, 2023).
In ancient Chinese society, this was the only day when girls were allowed to go out to enjoy lanterns and meet young people. Therefore, it is also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Today, cities around the world still hold massive lantern displays and bazaars on the final day of the festival.