Beneficial Rituals and Customs to Celebrate The Lunar (Chinese) New Year 2021
© Douglas Sutton
Entering a new year we are crossing a threshold. Many of us have heard sayings like “A journey well begun is half done”. Traditionally, people have believed that if we take time to prepare for the coming year, and start it off well, our whole year will benefit.
Many of the rituals and customs described here are said to set the tone for a fresh start and a prosperous, abundant new year. I observed most of these customs in practice while living in China for 9 years. You could try out some of these customs and add a few of your own to start off the New Lunar Year, Chinese New Year of the Metal Ox.
Lunar New Year festivals take place throughout South East Asia and around the world. Celebrations and customs may vary depending on the country or area in which you celebrate. I will share some Lunar New Year traditions that can help you get off to a good start in this coming year and some that few still follow.
Chinese New Year and Tibetan/Nepali/Bhutanese Losar are both February 12 this year. New Year’s Eve celebrations will be on February 11. The dates Chinese New Year and Losar are observed don’t always match up because there are different lunar calendars in use.
In the US some New Year’s Eve Ceremonies will be held on the evening of February 10th to most closely match the actual peak New Moon time and concurrent ceremonies in Asia.
Clean, Organize, and Renew Living & Working Spaces
In the days leading up to Lunar New Year, people clean homes and business places. They wash windows, sweep the floors, clean altars, and dust the furniture to clear away bad luck from the previous year, and set the stage for a great new year. This can also be a good time to let go of clutter and the past.
Think about giving yourself the gift of a new year in a clean, organized, renewed, living and working environment. This will improve the Feng Shui. Visualize and create an environment that promotes flow and harmony in your life.
Adorn Your Environment with Auspicious Symbols
The dominant color of traditional decorations is red as it represents happiness, prosperity, and auspiciousness. Among the decorations hung in and around homes, storefronts, and businesses while preparing for the Lunar New Year are; scarlet red colored lanterns, drawings of young children, people lighting fireworks, auspicious calligraphy couplets, red paper cuts of the animal sign representing the coming year, images of golden ingots, and in the Chinese community the symbol for prosperity and good fortune 福. The Fu symbol is often hung upside down to represent the arrival of prosperity.
In parts of China, where the holiday is called Spring Festival, bright floral arrangements and fruit trees also brighten homes and streets. Peach and apricot blossoms hold special significance in the celebration of Tết in Vietnam. In Korea, decorative cranes symbolize longevity and magpies represent good fortune.
Wear a Set of New Clothes New Year’s Eve
Rituals help demarcate liminal transitions from one state or condition to another. Special dress is associated with weddings, ceremonies marking a transition into adulthood etc. Here, it’s a transition into a new year full of hopes, wishes, and intentions.
New Year’s Eve is a good time to wear a set of new clothes. Enter the New Year wearing new clothes. This can be accomplished as simply as putting on a brand-new set of undergarments; t-shirt, underwear, socks. White and black outer-garments are traditionally avoided on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Red dresses are very commonly worn at this time.
Benefit from New Year’s Eve Make Peace With the Year Ceremony, Wear Protection Pendants & Something Red
Chinese astrology delineates a repeating cycle of twelve animal signs. The lunar year that you are born in determines your animal sign. It is said that people born in a particular year will tend to share common strengths, weakness, and personality traits. This coming year will be the Year of the Metal Ox.
It is said that in each year four of the twelve animal signs will be in conflict with the sign (Lord) of the year and naturally face more obstacles and challenges. There are special An Tai Sui (Make Peace with the Year) prayer ceremonies conducted in temples to help those affected in a given year reduce obstacles and have a year full of prosperity and good fortune.
In this coming year people born in the Years of the Ox, Dragon, Ram, and Dog are said to face more astrologically related obstacles. If you don’t know your Chinese animal sign you can find out on line at various sites including:
This year, the Buddhist temple where I am Vice Abbot offers An Tai Sui – Make Peace with the Year Blessing for people born in the Years of the Ox, Dragon, Ram, and Dog. February 10, beginning at 6 pm Pacific time there will be two ceremonies conducted. There is no cost to listen to the ceremonies. The first one brings blessings to everyone. Just listen to and feel the blessing of ancient mantras as they flow to and through you. People born in the Year of the Ox, Dragon, Ram, and Dog can register and make an offering to be included in the second ceremony: An Tai Sui. Learn more at Dari-Rulai-Temple.org
Specially blessed pendants are available from temples to help bring greater protection and good fortune throughout the year. Another tradition encourages people born into the “four offending signs” to wear a piece of red clothing, red underclothing, or a piece of red string every day throughout the year to help ward off bad luck and disasters.
Pray, Make Offerings, Take Part in Blessing Ceremonies at Temples
The Lunar New Year season is one of the busiest times of the year at temples. Devout worshippers, and casual good fortune seekers following tradition, typically visit a temple to make offerings of incense, food and money, and to pray to Buddhas and deities for blessings and good luck in the year ahead. Temples commonly hold special blessing ceremonies, praying for those who make offerings and all sentient beings. Many major Chinese temples will also put on festive dragon and lion dances in the courtyard.
In Tibet, people make colorful intricately carved frozen butter sculptures – “tspedro or torma” as deity offerings. Ranging in size, from small placards to massive recreations of temples, these colorful labor-intensive ephemeral offerings remind people of life’s impermanence.
Stay Up Past Midnight or Until Dawn
Around the world may people consider it auspicious to stay up past midnight to welcome in the New Year. Some say that staying up past dawn, is even more auspicious.
Leave All Lights On From Before Sundown New Year’s Eve Until Past Dawn New Year’s Day. Leave Curtains Open
Traditionally people pray for blessings of prosperity and good fortune at the Lunar New Year. Tradition holds that if the Lord of Wealth can see light coming out of your windows he can find you and come give you a blessing for the year.
Make the First Day of the Year a Day of Rest, Relaxation, and Setting a Good Pattern For the Year
The first day of the year represents the whole year. Ceremonies, rituals, and customs can help invite in a blessed year.
Traditionally, The first day of the year has been considered to be a good day to relax, and enjoy family time and good food. It is best not to work on the first day of the year.
It is also best not to do housework, sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning etc. We don’t want to sweep away newly arrived good luck and blessings. Clean dishes as you use them but don’t tidy up after things left out and around from your New Year’s Eve celebration.
After Celebrating on New Year’s Eve, and during New Year’s Day, is considered to be an auspicious time to do one’s meditation and spiritual practices. Good practice at these times brings benefit throughout the year.
Don’t Shower or Take a Bath on New Year’s Day
The first day of the year we don’t want to “wash off” the blessings we have just received.
Don’t Get Your Hair Cut Until One Month and Two Days After the New Year
This avoids cutting off your stream of wealth and success.
Avoid Cursing, Swearing, Arguing & Negative Words
Better to avoid calling forth negativity and problems during the year. Being polite and gentle is thought to bring one good luck and fortune.
On New Year’s Day Be a Vegetarian
Since the first day of the year represents the whole year, being vegetarian on that day makes a symbolic gesture representing being a vegetarian for the year. Some meat eaters also refrain from eating meat on full and new moon days during the year.
Ancient stories tell us that the loud noise of fireworks and the color red scares away Nian, the lion-like monster who legend says used to rise up from the sea for a feast of human flesh at the new year. Nian mythology also inspires lion dances during Lunar New Year festivities. The explosions of fireworks also break up old and sometimes stagnant energy patterns, making way for the setting of a new pattern with a new vibration.
Have a Family Reunion Dinner
For over a billion people, the family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve is considered is to be the most important holiday of the year. Schools and many businesses close for a seven day vacation.
Lunar New Year travel is heralded as the world’s largest annual human migration. In 2019, 3 billion trips were estimated to have been made during the holiday season. Ceremonies and rituals expressing gratitude to one’s ancestors, renewing family bonds, celebrating the changing year with food and drink, and calling for a better life all find expression at this holiday.
Present Red Gift Envelopes
Special cash filled red envelopes are presented as gifts to children, unmarried adults, and unmarried employees at this holiday. Red envelopes are also used to make offerings at temples. These cash gifts can range from a few dollars to very large amounts of money depending on one’s relationship to the recipient. The outside of the envelopes are decorated with auspicious calligraphy and illustrations.
Traditionally families might enjoy music and singing on New Year’ Eve in addition to feasting and lighting fireworks. Today most people watch music and dance extravaganzas on TV featuring many well know stars.
Enjoy Auspicious Foods
Like most holidays, the Lunar New Year’s Eve Dinner is a time for feasting. There are many traditional foods and treats with special associations, especially wealth, eaten at this time. In times of great poverty in the past this might be the only day throughout the year that a family would eat a meat dish.
Foods served will vary in different countries and different parts of China. In northern China, people eat jiaozi (filled dumplings, 餃子) as part of their Lunar New Year’s Eve. These filled dumplings are now popular around the world.
Fish, glutinous rice balls, noodles, wontons, glutinous rice cakes, spring rolls, mandarin oranges, and candied fruits and are commonly eaten, and gifted across cultures that celebrate Lunar New Year.
Learn More About Traditional Customs
In the past there were special customs observed on at least each of the first ten days of the new year and on the fifteenth day. Important rituals are still observed, at home and in temples, on the fifteenth day, the first full moon of the new year.
I Wish You and Your Loved Ones a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous Chinese New Year of the Metal Ox !
I welcome you to let me know if you observe any of these customs and about your experience beginning this new lunar year. Contact me if you have questions about New Year’s Eve Blessings.
I teach people “Inner Light Awakening” meditations from the 1300 year old Chinese Esoteric School – Hanmi. Easily feel your body filling with energy, and see your “Inner Light” becoming brighter. Contact me to learn a “Light Awakening” meditation free.
Sifu Douglas Sutton
more INFORMATION ABOUT CHINESE NEW YEAR CUSTOMS, TRADITION FOODS, and DECORATIONS, will be coming soon!