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."

Presidents Day vs. President's Day vs. Presidents' Day: Which One Is It?

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iStock

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" implies that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

California Retirement Home Put Residents' Vintage Wedding Dresses on Display

iStock.com/raksybH
iStock.com/raksybH

You know you’ve reached a certain level of maturity when many of your once-modern day belongings can be described as vintage. It’s a term the residents of the Stoneridge Creek retirement community are taking in stride this month, because some of their (yes, vintage) wedding dresses are now on display.

The Pleasanton, California retirement home has created an elaborate presentation of more than 20 dresses with various laces, styles, and lengths, some of which date back to 1907, along with wedding photos and other memorabilia to commemorate Valentine’s Day. The public is invited, but if you’re not local, you can catch a glimpse of the dresses in the video below.

This isn’t the first time Stoneridge Creek has made news. In 2015, a number of residents came together to craft quilts for residents who had served in the military. The group worked in secret to make the customized quilts honoring their service, then surprised them with the gifts on Veterans Day.

[h/t ABC7]

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