Chinese Lunar New Year has the longest chronological record in history. In 2600 BC, Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese lunar calendar is annual, beginning at sunset on the day of the second new moon following winter solstice. The date of the festival can land anywhere between late January and the middle of February on the western calendar.
In China, the festivities are known as spring festival (春節) or Lunar New Year (農曆新年) — the new year is determined by the lunar calendar. And the Chinese aren’t the only ones who observe it. However, not all Asian countries observe Lunar New Year. Japan abandoned the lunar calendar in favour of the solar calendar in the late 19th century. New Year’s Day — or gantan — falls on January 1st.
Some countries follow a lunar calendar without Chinese influence. Diwali in India is held in late October or early November.
Yet Chinese Lunar New Year has left its mark; in other places the festival has evolved.
A few examples:
• Koreans celebrate Lunar New Year, or Sol, but they do it without fanfare. Koreans also observe both the solar and the lunar new year.
• Vietnam’s three-day holiday of Tet Nguyen Dan shares much in common with the traditions of Chinese Lunar New Year, but also includes customs unique to the Vietnamese.
• In Cambodia, Chaul Chnam Thmey arrives in mid-April. A harvest festival, it’s celebrated after the rice crop is brought in. Cambodian farmers moved the date of Chinese Lunar New Year back three months to accommodate the harvest schedule. Moreover, their customs bear little resemblance to those observed by the Chinese.
• Thailand celebrates their new year, Songkran, on April 13. The ancestors of the modern Thais were Southern Chinese migrants. As with Cambodia, the date shifted to fall in line with Thailand’s agrarian harvest cycle. More importantly, it revolves around Buddhism, Thailand’s predominant religion.
Despite these differences, Lunar New Year is associated with the Chinese, and rightly so. It’s a fun, exciting and colourful event observed by Chinese the world over. They deserve to feel proud of one of their best cultural traditions.