Seattle is home to a diverse community of Asian cultures who celebrate the Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year celebrations welcome the return of spring and chase out the dark days of winter (and the evil spirits who lurk there) with the traditional roaring lion dance, the crackle of firecrackers, and other traditions.
Although the Lunar New Year is observed throughout East Asia, each country celebrates in its own way according to national and cultural customs. In Vietnam, Lunar New Year is called Tet.
Preparations may begin one or more days before the first day of the Lunar New Year and may continue for several days. Some traditions include cleaning and decorating the home, buying new clothes, exchanging small gifts or cards, paying respect to ancestors, and eating special foods.
About the Lunar Calendar
Today, much of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar year. The solar year is 365 days, which is the time it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun. The solar year, also called a tropical year, can be measured from the solstices (mid-summer and mid-winter) or the equinoxes (spring and fall).
In actuality, a solar year is a tiny bit longer than 365 days–about 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds, which is why there’s a leap year every 4 years to add a day to compensate for this accumulated time.
In contrast to the solar calendar, the lunar calendar follows the phases of the moon, which as you might guess is how long it takes the Moon to orbit the Earth. There are 12 lunar months in a year and each lunar month averages about 29.5 days.
If you are doing the math, there is an 11-day discrepancy between the solar and lunar calendars. So a lunar “leap year” occurs very three years and adds a 13th month.
The phases of the lunar month begin with a new moon when the moon is directly in-between the Sun and Earth. As they days go by, the moon moves around the Earth (“waxes”) and appears crescent shaped in the sky, until it reaches the other side of our planet and becomes full in mid-month. Now Earth is between the Sun and Moon. Finally, the Moon completes its orbit (“wanes”), until it is once again new, between the Sun and Earth.
Jews and Muslims follow the lunar calendar. Chinese calendars are a type of lunisolar calendar, a combination of a solar calendar and a lunar calendar.
Head to our solstice page for more solstice and equinox information and a calendar of related lantern festivals and light shows that occur throughout the year.
About Lunar New Year
Chinese Lunar New Year occurs somewhere between January 20 and February 10, nearly halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
In Vietnamese culture, people celebrate Tet, which means “joint of a bamboo stern” and in a wider sense, the “beginning of a period of the year”. There are many Tets throughout the year (Mid-autumn Vietnamese New Year, Cold Food Vietnamese New Year, etc.). But the most significant of all is “Vietnamese New Year”, marking the Lunar New Year. On the day of Tet, wish yourself and others a Happy New Year or Chuc Mung Nam Moi.
There are many ways to say Happy New Year in Chinese and they depend on who is saying it and to whom (for example, to an older person, a child, a friend, or co-worker). To say “Happy New Year” in Mandarin, say Shin Nee-an Kwai Le, or to friends and family the less formal Shin Nee-an How.
Gung Hay Fat Choy is a common Cantonese phrase for Lunar New Year that wishes the receiver prosperity. So it’s not strictly a “happy new year” phrase.
It is traditional in many cultures to begin the Lunar New Year with a festive meal the evening before. Foods for Lunar New Year include long noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, spring rolls, turnips and radishes, fish, pork, and other dishes.
Traditional Tet foods include special rice cakes called Banh Chung and Banh Tet, roasted watermelon seeds, pickled onions, boiled chicken, mung bean pudding, Vietnamese sausage (giò chả), red sticky rice, and sweet dried fruits.
Here are some Asian and Chinese food ideas and inspiration:
- Korean Lunar New Year Traditions and Food
- Chinese New Year Food: Top 7 Lucky Foods and Symbolism
- Lucky Foods for the Lunar New Year
- Chinese New Year food that bring wealth
- 10 Lucky Lunar New Year recipes
2020 Year of the Rat
The years of the Chinese calendar follow a 12-year cycle. Each year is associated with one of 12 animal symbols in the Chinese zodiac. According to legend, the Jade Emperor invited the animals of his kingdom to enter a race through the countryside. The first 12 to finish the long race would each rule over one year every 12 years. The 12 animals are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit (or cat in Vietnam), dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
- 2020 is the year of the Rat. Rat years include (people born in): 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, and 2032.
- Saturday, January 25 is the first day of the Lunar Year.
2020 Lunar New Year events in Seattle
(If nothing is listed below, there are no upcoming Lunar New Year events in our calendar. Lunar New Year occurs somewhere between the last ten days of January and the first twenty days of February. We usually update Lunar New Year events in early January for the current year.)
- Find more Chinatown-International District festivals and events.
- Find more Cultural heritage festivals in the Puget Sound region.
- There are more festivals of all kinds on our big list of annual festivals, fairs, and parades.
- And here’s a list of 101+ always free things to do for fun.
- Find free and cheap things to do every day on the Greater Seattle on the Cheap event calendar.
- Visit the Greater Seattle on the Cheap home page and choose from a menu of free and cheap activities in the Puget Sound region.
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