Lunar New Year 101 →

Lunar New Year 101 →

Honoring family. Festive meals. Performance and tradition. It’s all part of Lunar New Year celebrations — which we’re thrilled to be taking part in this year to mark the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit. More details of the Seaport’s Lunar New Year festivities, presented in partnership with the New York Chinese Cultural Center, will be shared here, in the lead-up to the weekend of January 21 and 22 (the latter being the official start of the Lunar New Year). 

To prepare for the celebrations, the New York Chinese Cultural Center’s executive director, Ying H. Yen, gives us the scoop on the significance of the holiday and its many traditions.

What is the Lunar New Year?

YY:  It celebrates the start of a new year based on the lunar calendar, and this year the Lunar New Year is on January 22nd. It’s an important holiday in many cultures around the world, including Asian cultures.

Lunar New Year Collage

How is Lunar New Year observed? 

YY: There are many ways to celebrate Lunar New Year. For the Chinese, families gather for meals to eat symbolic foods like long noodle dishes—to symbolize longevity—and dumplings—that symbolize wealth. People go see performances like the lion dance and red ribbon dance. They hang red paper cuttings and lanterns with Chinese calligraphy characters on them that signify good luck and happiness. Some people wear new clothes on New Year’s Day, to signify a clean new start. Decorating your home with red paper cuttings, lanterns and flowers are also very popular as red is an auspicious color. [See more of Ying’s descriptions of specific traditions in the timeline further down on this page.]

How does NYCCC celebrate the New Year? 

YY: The New York Chinese Cultural Center celebrates Lunar New Year with many communities throughout New York City. We bring performances and workshops to them that showcase Chinese folk dances and lion dance as well as Chinese calligraphy and lantern-making. Our Lunar New Year events are wonderful opportunities for people to celebrate and learn about Chinese culture, while also allowing us to preserve and share these traditional artforms.

lion dance at the Seaport

At the Seaport, we’re doing the Traditional Lion Dance and Calligraphy workshops. What is the significance of these activities?

YY: The traditional lion dance is often performed to celebrate Lunar New Year and other festive occasions. The lions parade through crowds and visit storefronts to bring good luck to people and businesses, especially to those who feed them red envelopes.

In NYCCC’s calligraphy workshops, participants learn about the traditional Chinese writing system, where the flow of the lines blend language with art. Using an ink brush, NYCCC artists show and explain the relationship between ancient Chinese pictographs and their modern-day ideographs. The fish [a common motif in Chinese calligraphy and mythology] symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

calligraphy workshop at the Seaport Museum

Lunar New Year Traditions S+4

Preceding Days 

23rd–29th of the 12th lunar month

Cleaning the House
It is customary for families to thoroughly clean the house before New Year’s Day in order to sweep away any ill-fortune from the previous year and to make way for good luck in the new year.

New Year Shopping
People shop for Lunar New Year decorations like paper cuttings and lanterns with Chinese calligraphy on them. They buy symbolic foods like fish, long noodles, dumplings, spring rolls, and fruits like oranges, kumquats and tangerines.

New Year’s Eve 

30th of the 12th lunar month

Decorating with Spring Couplets
Spring Festival couplets are Chinese characters written on red paper expressing poetry to wish for a good life in the new year. They are put on both sides of the front door. The red color of the couplets is also supposed to scare off the legendary monster named Nian. According to the legend, Nian would eat people and animals on New Year’s Eve but would be scared off with firecrackers and the color red.

Reunion Dinners
Families reunite over a meal. Dinner usually includes symbolic foods like fish, long noodles, dumplings, and spring rolls.

Gifts of Red Envelopes
Children love this tradition. Adults give red envelopes to children with money inside to bring good luck. 

Staying Up Late
The belief is that staying up late on New Year’s Eve will help prolong the lives of your parents. The later you stay up, the longer their lives will be.

Chinese New Year’s Day

Firecrackers & Fireworks
Setting off fireworks is thought to bring good health, wealth and fortune.

Offering Sacrifices to Ancestors
To honor and pay their respects to their ancestors, people offer sacrifices such as burning paper money, incense, and food. They ask that their ancestors watch over them and protect them. These rituals are believed to bring good luck and prosperity as well.

Day 2–Day 7

Visiting Relatives & Friends
During these visits, people exchange red envelopes and gifts of food like oranges and tangerines that symbolize good luck and fortune. Sayings are also exchanged to wish each other happiness, good health, and fortune for the new year.

Day 8

Many people return to work after the holiday
Increasingly, more workplaces are celebrating Lunar New Year with decorations, performances, workshops. The New York Chinese Cultural Center has performed and done workshops for many workplaces.

Day 15 

Lantern Festival – the Lunar New Year period ends

Lighting & Watching Lanterns
The significance of this is to usher in a bright future. 

Eating Sweet Dumplings
Eating round balls of glutinous rice in sweet soup symbolizes a sweet life and togetherness and wholeness given the round shape of the rice balls.

More Fireworks!
Fireworks are to ward off bad luck and bring good luck for the new year.

Lunar New Year Traditions

You can experience some of these Lunar New Year traditions here at the Seaport on January 21 and 22, 2023. Stay tuned to this page for the complete schedule of events.

The New York Chinese Cultural Center’s mission is to deepen the understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture in the global and local communities. Lunar New Year events across the city are just one example of the center’s ongoing work. To learn about more cultural and educational programming, and to see upcoming events, visit