Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year and it is a celebration of the new year in Asian communities around the world. The date of the new year is determined by the lunar calendar, so festivities begin with the new cycle of the moon that falls between January 21 and February 19. Each year is named for one of 12 symbolic animals in sequence. The animals, in their sequential order, are the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar.
Known as the Spring Festival in China, Tet in Vietnam, and Sol in Korea, the new year celebration is the most important and the longest of all festivals in these communities, traditionally lasting for two weeks. During this period, towns and villages are decorated with colored lanterns, floral displays, and brightly colored banners emblazoned with new year greetings. Preparations traditionally begin in the home the week before the new year, when families thoroughly clean their houses to symbolically sweep away all traces of misfortune. They also pay off debts, add a new coat of red paint to doors and windowpanes, and decorate the home with flowers. To avoid bad luck, parents warn their children to be on their best behavior and to avoid the use of vulgar expressions. On the evening before the new year, families gather for a feast of special dishes. Each dish has symbolic meaning, often signifying good luck and prosperity. At midnight, families light fireworks to attract the attention of benevolent gods and to frighten away evil spirits. The fireworks last until dawn, although celebrants may sporadically light more fireworks for the next two weeks.
On the first day of the new year, people put on new clothes to symbolize the discarding of the old year and its misfortunes. Then they take gifts to friends and relatives. The gifts usually include special rice flour cakes and fruits such as kumquats and oranges. Many adults, particularly married ones, also follow an ancient custom of giving small red packets of money (called hong bao or lai see in Chinese) to children, unmarried adults, and employees or servants.
Among the most spectacular festivities of Lunar New Year are the dragon and lion dances. As many as 50 or more people support long dragons and lions made from vibrant paper and cloth while dancing in processions down city streets. The dancers perform to the beating of gongs and drums, while other celebrants perform acrobatic displays. Some of the performers may occasionally reach up to take red money packets or fruits and vegetables hung from storefronts. The celebrations end with the lantern festival, an event in which merchants hang lighted paper lanterns outside their shops. Many of the lanterns rotate with the heat of the candles they contain. Children often parade through the streets during the lantern festival, carrying lanterns of various shapes and patterns.