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Learning About Lunar New Year

I was born in Beijing, the capital of China, in 2012. According to the Chinese calendar, that means I was born during the Year of the Dragon. The 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac each represent something different. A baby born in the Year of the Dragon is said to be destined for a successful and happy life.

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2024 is the Year of the Dragon. During recent Lunar New Year celebrations in China and other Asian communities around the globe, the dragon took center stage.

The date of the Chinese New Year coincides with the cycles of the Moon. The first day of the New Year is the day of the first new Moon in the lunar calendar. The holiday ends two weeks later, with the first full Moon. This year, Lunar New Year began on February 10 and ended on February 24. 

My family and I are currently hosting Shiyuan Wang, a young teacher from China, at our home in New Jersey. Wang arrived in the United States last fall through an educational and cultural program. The program matches young people from around the world with American host families like mine. Wang has been teaching me about the Lunar New Year, which is usually referred to as the Spring Festival in China.

“Lunar New Year is our most important holiday,” Wang said. “It’s a time to return home, and to celebrate and feast with extended family.” 

Wang was unable to make the long journey home this year, but she spoke about the Chinese tradition of getting together with family members. “Pretty much everyone returns for the holiday,” she said, “no matter where they’re currently living or studying [in China]. The entire country takes off for two weeks.”

Lots of preparation goes into the festivities, which begin the night before the start of the New Year. “We prepare a big feast, cook dumplings together, and stay up late to set off fireworks,” Wang said. “The next day, we pay visits to friends and family. Parents, grandparents, and other relatives give children hongbao, which are ‘red packets’ filled with money.”

This was Wang’s first Lunar New Year abroad. She and her friends attended song and dance performances, as well as parades, in Flushing, New York. The New York City neighborhood is home to many Asian Americans.            


Deirdre studies with Shiyuan Wang, a teacher who is visiting from China on an exchange program.


Across China, it’s common to see firework displays the night before the Lunar New Year begins. These loud and colorful spectacles are meant to chase away bad luck and evil spirits, especially the mythical beast, Nian. 

According to legend, this frightening creature terrorized the Chinese people until a god disguised as an elderly man revealed Nian’s three weaknesses: a hatred of the color red and a fear of loud noises and bright lights. That’s why wearing red and setting off fireworks are traditional features of Lunar New Year.  

Next year, if you see homes with red banners or hear firecrackers at night, be sure to wish the revelers 新年好 (Xin Nian Hao). That’s Mandarin for “Happy New Year!”

Photo courtesy of the author