5 Fast Facts about the Lunar New Year

iStock.com/oneclearvision
iStock.com/oneclearvision

The Chinese New Year brings to mind visions of dancing dragons and lanterns lit in red, and whether you celebrate the traditional way or observe from afar, the good tidings of the lunar new year are a familiar feeling.

However, while the Chinese New Year is a lunar new year, the history of the Lunar New Year and its various celebrations are much more complicated. All Chinese New Year celebrations are celebrations of the Lunar New Year, but certainly not all Lunar New Year celebrations are traditionally Chinese.

Learn a little more about this widely celebrated event with these five fast facts.

1. The beginning of the lunar new year changes each year.

Dragon and lion dancers perform on the streets in Manila, Philippines.
Dragon and lion dancers perform on the streets in Manila, Philippines.
Jes Aznar/Getty Images

The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so the date of the Chinese New Year and its festival changes every year. Technically, it falls during the second new moon after the winter solstice. Though it falls on February 5 this year, the first day of the lunar new year can be anywhere from January 21 to February 19. China was relatively late to adopting the Gregorian calendar, officially switching in 1912 (though not effectively using it until 1929), but the lunar calendar is more important on a spiritual and cultural level. All of the traditional holidays from the lunar calendar, like the winter solstice, are still celebrated in China, and many people in China still calculate their age and birthday by the lunar calendar.

2. The lunar calendar is not quite the same as the lunisolar calendar.

Filipinos flock to a local temple as they celebrate the lunar new year in Manila, Philippines.
Filipinos flock to a local temple as they celebrate the lunar new year in Manila, Philippines.
Jes Aznar/Getty Images

The "Lunar New Year" can actually indicate a couple of different things. The broadest meaning is based solely on the lunar calendar, which is calculated by monthly cycles based on the moon's phases (the Islamic calendar, for example, is a lunar calendar). Some lunar new years, though, are based on lunisolar calendars, which include both the moon's phase and the time in the solar year. The Gregorian calendar—and the Chinese, Hebrew, and ancient Babylonian calendars, too—are lunisolar calendars. This explains why holidays like Easter, Ramadan, or Rosh Hashanah in the Gregorian calendar—and Chinese New Year—fall on different dates every year.

3. Lunar New Year festivities date back to 14th century BCE.

Market-goers pose for photos with bronze pig statues at Hang Luoc street Lunar New Year fair, a favorite shopping place for local people in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Market-goers pose for photos with bronze pig statues at Hang Luoc street Lunar New Year fair, a favorite shopping place for local people in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Linh Pham/Getty Images

Certainly the most recognized celebration of the lunar new year comes from China. Though it's hard to pinpoint its origin, the celebration of the new year in China started somewhere around the 14th century BCE, when a solar-based calendar created around the solstices was introduced. With it, the Chinese began using lunar and solar calendars concurrently. The agrarian society, though, knew that each year's harvest went through the same cycles every year, and the new harvest year (hence, why it's also called the Spring Festival) began being celebrated during the Shang dynasty. It wasn't until much later, during the 2nd century BCE, that Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty fixed the celebration to be on the first day on the first month of the lunar calendar.

4. It's not just a Chinese festival.

People crowd on the street during the Grebeg Sudiro festival in Solo City, Central Java, Indonesia. Grebeg Sudiro festival is held as a prelude to the Chinese New Year; people bring offerings known as gunungan.
People crowd on the street during the Grebeg Sudiro festival in Solo City, Central Java, Indonesia. Grebeg Sudiro festival is held as a prelude to the Chinese New Year; people bring offerings known as gunungan, including Chinese sweetcakes piled up into the shape of mountains, which are paraded in the streets followed by Chinese and Javanese performers.
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

The Chinese New Year is not the only celebration based on the lunar new year. There are lunar new year celebrations in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, and more. In fact, Sydney, Australia renamed their festivities from "Chinese" to "Lunar New Year Festival" this year in order to be more inclusive of the numerous Asian cultures that celebrate with a lunar calendar.

5. Lunar New Year is an official holiday in California.

Children practice their drumming before the start of the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade in San Francisco, California.
Children practice their drumming before the start of the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Not only is California the most populous state in the union, according to the most recent census data, it also has the largest Asian population of any state, at roughly 6 million. Because Asian culture is so popular in California, in 2018, former Governor Jerry Brown signed a law recognizing the Lunar New Year as an official state holiday.

"Millions of people in California celebrate the traditions of the Lunar New Year that are transmitted from one generation to the next," said Dr. Richard Pan, a state senator and co-author of the bill. "This bill will help recognize the rich history of one of the most celebrated events worldwide, and demonstrates to the API [Asian and Pacific Islander] community in our state that we are all part of the California family."

15 Scientific Ways to Relax for National Relaxation Day

iStock/anyaberkut via Getty Images
iStock/anyaberkut via Getty Images

Today is National Relaxation Day, so you have a great excuse to take it easy. Here’s how science can help you have the most laid-back day of the year.

1. Get a house or office plant.

Spending time in nature improves your overall wellbeing, but it turns out even just a little greenery is great for your health. Studies have shown patients in hospital rooms with plants report lower stress. Even just stepping into a lush space can reduce your heart rate. Plus, plants are effective at increasing oxygen and clearing out toxins, which should help you breathe easier—literally.

2. Avoid screens before bedtime.

Artificial light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, which messes with your sleep. Studies have found that young adults were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, high stress and even depression if they reported intensive use of cell phones and computers at night.

3. Eat a banana.

Potassium helps your body regulate blood pressure. Keeping that under control should help you bounce back more quickly from what’s got you stressed.

4. Indulge in some citrus.

Still hungry after that chocolate and banana? Try citrus. Recent studies show that vitamin C helps to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress.

5. Listen to classical music.

Portrait of a beautiful young woman lying on sofa with headphones on and closed eyes, relaxing
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Any music you enjoy is bound to make you feel better, but classical music, in particular, has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

6. Drink green tea sweetened with honey.

Green tea contains L-theanine, which reduces stress, and honey—unlike cane sugar—has been shown to counteract free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is sometimes linked to depression.

7. Give yourself a hand massage.

Especially if you spend all day typing, hands can get really tense. A quick massage should be doable at your desk and if you incorporate some lavender-scented lotion, you’ll get extra relaxation benefits.

8. Lock lips with someone.

Romance is relaxing! Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that is shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

9. Chew some gum.

No matter what flavor it is, the act of chewing gum has been proven to lower cortisol and improve reported mood.

10. Blow up a balloon.

Young woman blowing up a blue balloon against a yellow background
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Reacting to stress with short, shallow breaths will only exacerbate the problem—your body needs more oxygen, not less, to relax. Blowing up a balloon will help you refocus on your breathing. No balloons around? Just concentrate on taking a few deep breaths.

11. Mow the lawn.

Research shows that a chemical released by a mowed lawn—that fresh-cut grass smell—makes people feel happy and relaxed. Plus, knocking it off your to-do list will give you one less thing to stress about.

12. Find something to make you laugh.

Watching a funny video online does more than just brighten your afternoon, it physically helps to relax you by increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

13. Grab some chocolate.

What’s also good at releasing endorphins? Chocolate. Studies show that even just 40 grams of dark chocolate a day can help you de-stress.

14. Focus on relaxing all of your muscles.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing and, starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

15. Take a mental vacation.

Man takes a break from work to meditate at his laptop
AaronAmat/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take a moment to close your eyes and picture a particularly relaxing scene. It may sound cheesy, but numerous studies show that just a few minutes of disengaging from your stressors rejuvenates your ability to tackle the work.

5 Fascinating Facts About Middle Children

francisgonsa/iStock via Getty Images
francisgonsa/iStock via Getty Images

Full House's perpetually neglected Stephanie Tanner, The Brady Bunch's embittered Jan Brady, Downton Abbey's tragedy-prone Lady Edith Crawley: For many people, these are the images that pop into their heads when thinking of the stereotypical middle child. In TV shows and movies, they’re often used as comic relief, always stuck in the shadow of their other, seemingly more important siblings. But the reality is far more generous to middle children.

Studies have shown that middle children are exceedingly independent and creative, with certain leadership qualities that their firstborn and last-born counterparts can’t match. Some of our most important world leaders, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs occupy this oft-mocked middle spot, but from most accounts, it’s a breeding ground for success. Here are five fascinating facts about middle children.

1. Middle children may be endangered.

There was a time during the first half of the 20th century when having three to four children was seen as the ideal number for parents, with 35 percent of moms between 40 and 44 having four children or more. Those numbers have been reversing for several decades—and now, the average American family consists of 3.14 people. On top of that, only 12 percent of women in their early forties have four children or more.

More people are going to college, taking longer to become financially settled, have easier access to birth control, and are embarking on demanding careers that put family life on the back burner. In addition to having children later in life, the average cost of raising a child has increased dramatically over the generations, so one or two kids might be all some couples can afford. These factors all add up to create smaller families, which means we’ll likely see fewer middle children throughout the country in future decades if these trends continue. And without them, we’ll lose out on all of the remarkable traits seen below.

2. Middle children can have first-rate negotiation skills.

Despite the common perception of middle children being resentful of their siblings and never getting enough attention from their parents, Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children, has done extensive research on the subject that found the plight of middle children may actually be a positive thing later in life. One such trait is their ability to negotiate.

“Middles are used to not getting their own way, and so they become savvy, skillful manipulators,” Schumann told Psychology Today. “They can see all sides of a question and are empathetic and judge reactions well. They are more willing to compromise, and so they can argue successfully. Since they often have to wait around as kids, they’re more patient.”

3. Their low self-esteem might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Yes, the middle child may suffer from low self-esteem when compared to their siblings, due to their “their lack of uniqueness and attention at home,” according to Schumann. However, this doesn’t have to be a negative thing as it helps keep their ego in check.

“Also, self-esteem is not as critical as our society believes,” Schumann explained. “Having an accurate sense of your self-esteem is more important than having high self-esteem. Surprisingly, new studies show that high self-esteem does not correlate with better grades in school or greater success in life. It can actually lead to a lack of perseverance in the face of difficulties.”

4. Middle children tend to be faithful in their relationships.

Dr. Catherine Salmon, Schumann's co-author on The Secret Power of Middle Children, found that 80 percent of middle children claimed they have never cheated on their partner. This is compared to 65 percent of firstborns and 53 percent of last-borns who said they were never unfaithful to their long-term partner or spouse. This, of course, led to separate studies confirming that middle children, and their spouses, were happiest in marriage when compared to other birth orders.

There is a catch, however: Schumann said that while middle children may be the happiest and make for satisfied partners, two middle children might not make an ideal match: "An Israeli marital happiness survey shows that middles are the happiest and most satisfied in relationships, and that they partner well with firsts or lasts—but less well with other middles, because they may both avoid conflict."

5. Some of history's most important leaders were middle children.

Though the conventional numbers have established that most U.S. presidents are firstborns, Schumann contends that half of our Commanders-in-Chief are actually middle children. In an interview with NPR, she revealed that the connection between the presidency and middle children was obscured for years because of one strange quirk: firstborn girls weren’t traditionally counted as older siblings. Instead, firstborns were only taken into consideration when it came to males.

In general, it's difficult to nail down certain presidential birth orders, as the middle child blog SmackDab puts it: "George Washington’s father had four children with his first wife before the first President was born. Washington was the first of six children from his father’s second marriage. So was he the first born or the fifth born?" Still, if we're to take conventional wisdom and a loose definition of what a middle child is (basically anyone not the oldest or the youngest), then it turns out that 52 percent of presidents were born in the middle, including Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln.

It's JFK in particular, Schumann concluded, who displayed many of the traits typical of a middle child during his years in office, citing his ability to communicate and negotiate even under the most stressful of conditions.

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