The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so the date of Lunar New Year is different each year. Lunar New Year is particularly celebrated in East Asia, influenced by the Chinese New Year and the Chinese Calendar. It is also a feature of the Hindu-Buddhist calendars of South and Southeast Asia, the Islamic calendar and the Jewish calendar. However, it is usually in January or February and each year is named after one of 12 animals. A traditional story explains how this came to be. One day, the Emperor decided to have a race for all the animals in the country. Unfortunately, only 12 animals actually managed to get to the race. The Emperor rewarded them by naming the 12 years of the lunar calendar after them. The first to finish was the rat, so the first year is named after him. The other eleven, in order, were the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Different places celebrate in different ways, but Lunar New Year is very much a family celebration wherever it takes place. The younger generation greet their parents and grandparents with good wishes for the year ahead and show their respect for the older generation. Older members of the family give younger ones cash presents, traditionally in small packets. Red packets are used in China and Vietnam, as red is a lucky colour. It is lucky to send money in certain amounts, for example using the number eight, which in Chinese sounds like the word ‘prosper’.
Traditional foods which are eaten at Lunar New Year often have another meaning. For example, in China, many people eat fish dishes because the Chinese word for ‘fish’ sounds similar to ‘surplus’, meaning you will have plenty. In Korea, people serve a special soup. Thin pieces of rice cake are boiled in a clear soup, they are round and may represent coins and money.
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