The Lunar New Year: Year of the Tiger at LJCDS


Maya Couey and Joshua Hangartner, Staff Writers

On February 1, 2022, over 1.5 billion people in over 15 nations around the world celebrated the Lunar New Year. This holiday is celebrated in accordance with the lunar calendar, which is based on the orbit of the moon, thus the date changes on a yearly basis. It represents, conceptually, a similar holiday to Western New Years’ celebrations. However, it is celebrated very differently, even within various Asian cultures.

Lunar New Year is a holiday deeply rooted in tradition. The origin story that created the holiday now contributes heavily to Asian culture worldwide. Each year of the twelve-year cycle is represented by a different animal, with different qualities and characteristics. 2022is the year of the tiger. This year’s traits, which include courageousness and energy, are said to be embodied in the people born in this year, and every tiger year. “The 12 zodiac animals have different traits and Chinese people sometimes have expectations and make plans for the new year based on that,” says Ms. Sung, an Upper School Mandarin teacher. “It’s even possible to be born in a good luck or bad luck year! For example, lots of families aspire to have children born in the Year of the Dragon.”

This year, LJCDS celebrated the Lunar New Year with traditional Asian snacks and schoolwide decorations, organized by Upper School math teacher Ms. Lee and the AAPI affinity group she leads. We interviewed Ms. Lee to learn more about how she honors the Lunar New Year and what the holiday means to her. 

“We [Ms. Lee and her family] celebrate both calendar New Years,” states Ms. Lee, “We naturally celebrate on January 1 since, once I moved out of my parents’ home, it was only possible to celebrate when I was home for winter break.” This year, Ms. Lee also celebrated Lunar New Year on January 1 Her daughter virtually performed the traditional Korean bow to Ms. Lee’s parents, while wearing the traditional Korean hanbok. “Family time is the whole point,” affirms Ms. Lee while describing the importance of educating her daughter on the holiday as she begins to reach an age where she is capable of learning about the significance and traditions of the Lunar New Year.

Of course, the Lunar New Year is also celebrated with food. Ms. Lee bought numerous Korean snacks and fruits from Zion Market, a local Korean supermarket, as well as ordered the traditional Korean soup tteokguk, which is intended to bring good fortune in the New Year. 

When asked if Ms. Lee had an opinion on whether the Lunar New Year should also be referred to as Chinese New Year, she stated that “The Chinese community is really big in the U.S and has been here a lot longer than other immigrant communities, such as Koreans and Japanese. So people refer to it as Chinese New Year.” Even Ms. Lee’s AAPI affinity hung decorations with the words “Happy Chinese New Year.” She also mentions that the LJCDS Chinese community is far larger and thus more involved in the school’s observance of the Lunar New Year. While assuring that it is totally understandable and acceptable to call the celebration Chinese New Year, Ms. Lee still maintained her more broadened view of the holiday; “It is Lunar New Year, that’s what it is. Many more nations than China celebrate the Lunar New Year.”

But Ms. Lee also understands that there’s still room to increase her own knowledge of the holiday; “I am always learning,” she asserts, a relatable remark for many Asian Americans. “I am relearning traditions in Korean culture,” she says while proceeding to discuss new aspects of the holiday’s history in Korea, many of which she has just learned this year. 

Additionally, Ms. Sung, known to her students as Sung Laoshi (“Laoshi” meaning “teacher” in Mandarin) agrees with Ms. Lee and says that  Lunar New Year “is the time for us to go home and reunite with family. Chinese culture traditionally puts a lot of emphasis on family and community values. This is also why our New Year’s resolutions and customs focus on the prosperity of our families,”  Her take discusses, more specifically, what Lunar New Year entails for the Chinese population.

Similar to Korean culture, Chinese culture is big on food during the New Year. “Different Chinese regions have their own culinary traditions but there is a common idea that the dishes we prepare to celebrate the New Year should be auspicious and symbolize good fortune. It’s not only about what the dishes are but also how they are served and how we eat them,” Ms. Sung states, providing examples of the dishes, such as fish, sticky rice cake, and dumplings. For example, the translation of “sticky rice cake” in Chinese is “Nian gao,” which literally means “year high” in Chinese. It symbolizes a better year, especially in studies or careers.

In addition to amazing food, the Chinese also put much emphasis on New Year’s house cleaning, which is meant to be done with respect and deference, and gift-giving, which makes this holiday the children’s favorite. The adults customarily give children red envelopes (called in Chinese culture “hong bao”) with money inside. “The children need to say auspicious phrases to receive them and no one is allowed to open the envelopes in front of the givers as it is considered disrespectful,” Ms. Sung adds.

Decorations and firecrackers are also two big parts of the New Year in Chinese culture. People hang red couplets on their doors and put paper-cuts on windows. Also, Ms. Sung adds, “Oranges and tangerines are on display in many places because their spelling in Chinese characters and their pronunciation suggest “success” and “good fortune.”” Setting off firecrackers is a tradition that is more restricted now for safety reasons, but they are simply meant to scare off demons that appear in the new year. “This tradition isn’t just for fun,” says Ms. Sung.

As is evident, this holiday is about more than just having a good time: there are layers of cultural and traditional significance in the Lunar New Year. This is why celebrating it and acknowledging it is important. That way, many people in the world can take part in this wonderful holiday.

And, even if you don’t celebrate it, trying some food and making decorations are things you can easily do to get a taste of the experience :). Happy Lunar New Year!

Cover photo credit: LJCDS via Instagram