(CNN) – Grab your favorite red shirt; it’s time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
Saying goodbye to the Tiger, we enter the Year of the Rabbit on January 22, 2023.
Millions of families around the world are preparing celebrations for one of the biggest festivals of the year.
If you’re new to the lunar year, here’s a quick guide to the most common traditions and superstitions associated with the occasion.
The Legend of the Nian Monster
There are countless folktales attached to the lunar year, but the myth of “Nian” stands out as the most iconic and entertaining.
Legend has it that Nian was a fierce underwater beast with sharp teeth and horns. Every eve of the lunar year, he crawled on the ground and attacked a nearby village.
On one such occasion, as the villagers rushed to hide, a mysterious old man appeared and insisted on staying in the village despite being warned of impending doom.
To the surprise of the villagers, the old man and the village survived unscathed.
The man claimed he scared Nian by hanging red banners on the door, lighting firecrackers and wearing red clothes.
This is how wearing the color of fire – down to the underwear – with red banners hanging with auspicious phrases and lighting firecrackers or fireworks have become traditions of the lunar year, which are still followed today.
Fun aside, the lunar year can really be a lot of work.
The festivities often last 15 days – or even more – with various activities and activities taking place during that period.
It all starts about a week before the new year.
Before we begin, a quick note: while there are different ways to say “Happy New Year!” depending on where you are, we’re sticking with Mandarin and Cantonese in this story. We have included the romanized versions of both languages in our descriptions of the various traditions.
January 15: The preparation
The week before the lunar year, festive cakes and puddings are made on the 24th day of the last lunar month.
The word for cakes and puddings is “gao” in Mandarin or “gou” in Cantonese, which sounds the same as the word for “high”.
But no Lunar Year preparation would be complete without hanging red banners with auspicious phrases and idioms (called fai chun in Cantonese, or chunlian, in Mandarin) around the house – starting with the front door.
January 19: The last cleaning
A great cleaning is done at home on the 28th day of the last lunar month, which fell on January 19th this year.
A lot of other rules and superstitions are attached to the lunar year.
For example, do not wash or cut your hair on the first day of the new year.
Why? The Chinese character for hair is the first character in the word to prosper. So washing or cutting is seen as washing away your fortune.
You also want to avoid buying shoes for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like lose and sigh in Cantonese.
January 21 (Lunar New Year’s Day): The big party
A big family reunion dinner is usually held on the eve of the lunar new year, which falls on January 21 this year.
The menu is carefully chosen to include dishes associated with luck, including fish (the Chinese word for sounds like the word for “surplus”), puddings (symbolizing progress) and foods that look like ingots of gold (like dumplings).
In China, the foods served in these classic dinners vary from north to south. For example, the Northern Chinese tend to have dumplings and noodles, while the Southern Chinese cannot live without steamed rice.
But no matter which dishes you prefer, the foods of the lunar year are a feast of wordplay.
January 22 (Lunar New Year): Family visits
The first days of the Lunar New Year, especially the first two days, are often a test of endurance, appetite and social skills, as many people have to travel and visit immediate family, other relatives and friends .
Bags are provided with gifts and fruits for each home of the elderly and friends visited, which will provide the visitor with gifts and snacks in return after exchanging conversations about the lunar year’s traits.
Married people also have to give red packets to those who have not yet tied the knot – both children and unmarried juniors.
It is believed that these red busts could protect children from evil spirits called xie sui. The packs are known as yasui qian/Ngaat seoi cin and are meant to ward off those spirits.
January 24: Chi kou/Cek hau, or Red Mouth
The third day of the Lunar New Year (which falls on January 24 this year) is called “chi kou / cek hau”, or red mouth. It is believed that arguments are more likely to happen on this day, so people will visit temples and avoid social interaction.
Every year, some Chinese zodiac signs collide with the stars negatively. A visit to the temple is a good way to resolve those conflicts and bring peace in the coming months.
January 28: birthday of the people
The seventh day (January 28) of the Lunar year is said to be the day the Chinese mother goddess, Nuwa, created mankind. Thus, it is called renri/jan jat (the birthday of the people).
Different communities in Asia will serve different birthday foods on that day.
For example, people in Malaysia enjoy yeesang, or a “Prosperity Toss” of raw fish and chopped vegetables, while Cantonese people eat sweet rice balls.
February 5: festival of lanterns
The climax of the entire Spring Festival occurs on the 15th and last day (February 5 in 2023).
In ancient Chinese society, it was the only day that girls were allowed to go out to admire the lanterns and meet boys. As a result, it was also called the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Today, cities around the world can still display massive lanterns and fairs on the last day of the festival.