Tag Archives: chinese lunar new year

Chinese Lunar New Year


A, 18, is a student at USC. He is a French citizen of Chinese descent; he told me about how his family celebrated Lunar New Year when he visited China. He told me he grew up in France, so he seldom celebrated this tradition, only when he was in China back when he was young.  


Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, so it’s usually around the end of January or the beginning of February. Every Lunar New Year is about a different zodiac animal, this is the year of the rabbit (2023). We usually wear red or red clothes and use traditional Chinese red paper lamps. We also put up fish posters to symbolize wealth in China, we put them on walls and doors to bring good fortune. We eat dumplings and blow-up firecrackers and fireworks.


Chinese Lunar New Year is a very common celebration among the Chinese diaspora throughout the world. It celebrates the New Year, and just like many other cultures, it lines up with the life cycle calendar beginning with spring (birth) and ending in winter (death). It is a liminal time between two cycles, so it is a magical time outside of the norm filled with superstitions, feasts, and celebrations. This festival is annually celebrated, as one might assume by its name; however, contrastively to the Solar year and Gregorian Calendar, this festival aligns with the Lunar Calendar, which is why it is on a different day every year. The rituals and superstitions that are celebrated during this festival often are practiced to bring good luck; similar to most cultures around the world that also have “good fortune” superstitions during their new year celebrations as well.

The Nian Monster


“I know this is for sure Chinese. The idea of a Nian monster. I think this was actually the Chinese New Year tradition and where it came from. So once upon a time *laughs* there was this tale that there was a monster called Nian and every time around the current time of Chinese New Year. The Lunar/Chinese New Year is when the monster comes around and then they will either eat people or do a lot of robbery, a lot of killing, a lot of bad things. And then essentially what people end up doing is that someone found out, I don’t remember exactly how, but someone found out that if you played a very loud noise the monster would retreat. They also found out Nian is afraid of the color red. So this is how the Chinese New Year tradition of playing the bianpao which is the firecracker kind of thing, the thing that gives off a very loud sound, that’s how that tradition developed. And that’s also how the very much appreciated tradition of red packet *laughs* developed because I think Nian was particularly fond of children like kidnapping/killing children so the tradition became of like adults, adults would give children a red packet during Chinese New Year so that Nian wouldn’t come near them. They would also light up bianpao so it makes a lot of noise. I’m not sure how this tradition turned into putting money into a red packet but, I benefited *laughs* from this before which is why I remember vividly guess.”


The informant was born and grew up in China before moving to the United States to attend High School. The informant was told of the Nian monster when she was 4 or 5 years old by her grandmother. The story of the Nian monster is so popular that she also read about it in books and discussed the story with family and community members. The informant does not literally believe in the Nian monster, however, she is fond of the story and the traditions that accompany it.


The Nian monster and its incorporation into Chinese New Year traditions is perhaps a representation of the fear of the end of a cycle. Death can often follow the end of a cycle and begin the beginning of a new cycle. One’s awareness of the connection between the end of one thing and the beginning of another is heightened during the New Year. Nian could be seen as representing the possibility of death and thus attacks on the New Year.  Furthermore, the story of the Nian monster incorporates children within cultural New Years traditions and shows them that their family and community care about their safety. Children may end up feeling safer year-round if they are shown how much their community cares for them by having the color red everywhere, making noise, and giving them red packets for protection.

Wearing Red for Lunar New Year

Background: My informant is a friend of mine of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese heritage. His parents are both from Taiwan and are mixed between Chinese, indigenous Taiwanese, and Japanese. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. 

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Wednesday afternoon. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. During the call and in between our discussions of different folklore items, we talked socially about how we were acclimating. Thus, this conversation was more casual than the rest of my interviews. The main piece is made up of a transcription of our call.

Main Piece:

Chinese New Year. Right, everyone wants to be a red because red’s a lucky color. 

And I don’t know what the exact rationale behind it is but like apparently for certain years like it’s even more important for whatever Zodiac animal it is for that year.

To wear red because they need luck that you’re more than others. Others for some reason. So the way that my family took that was that they for Chinese New Year we buy each other gifts of red underwear, so that we would always read throughout the year. Yeah, even to this day. People still talking about the red, red underwear, both on both sides of the family both my white relatives and my Asian relatives.

Me: White relatives too?!

Yeah they’re definitely… they’re gung ho about it.

Me: OK but definitely they’re not wearing red every day of the year right?

Yeah its just more times than not.

Thoughts: I found this a particularly entertaining variation of a classical Chinese tradition of wearing red. This tradition was modified for my informant’s family so that they could wear red without showing it outwardly, and do it throughout the year rather than just one period during the lunar new year. I thought it was also really interesting that my informant’s white relatives performed and enjoyed this folklore as well. This shows that this folk practice is more tradition than heritage. 

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

Origin of Chinese New Year Fireworks


M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.


This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“Lunar New Years is a big deal in China, so my grandmother… my grandmother on my mother’s side… has three daughters, and each other my cousins all come back for Lunar New Years, so we are all pretty close. So… traditions, right? Lots of people know that China does fireworks during the Lunar New Year celebration, but like here and Japan people get together to watch the fireworks that are like set up by some organizations. Uh, in Beijing, people set up their own fireworks, and everyone in the city participates, so it sounds like the city is in the middle of a war. Millions of fireworks go off from like midnight until like five in the morning and you won’t be able to sleep. So, the folklore behind firing off fireworks is that in Chinese stories about Paganism, there is a monster that is called Nian, which has the same sound as the word year. Nian, year, New Year, you know? So like this monster goes around eating people and stuff and the people don’t know what to do. They decided that they are going to launch explosive fire-powder into the sky to scare it off. It worked, and now that is why we call a year a year, because it is named after Nian the monster. Now, it has become less about that and more people do fireworks because they are fun, but my mother would always tell us that before we could go out and light them. We had to know that there was a reason to like play with explosives.”


I like that his parents would make sure that the kids knew why a tradition exists before allowing them to participate in them. I think that it is interesting that they place a lot of importance on the folklore behind this tradition, while in the United States, the average parent does not explain why we celebrate the fourth of July. Kids learn about it in school, but that almost takes away from the tradition because it is taught institutionally, rather than organically. I was most intrigued to learn that the word year in Mandarin is pronounced the same as the creature in the story. It shows just how much society takes from folklore.