Lunar New Year marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar that is traditional to many East Asian nations. This year, Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 12, 2021, and the event is the most important holiday to many Asian countries, including Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, and China. Ushering in the Year of the Ox, people will begin celebrations well in advance.
Within a household, it is traditional to cleanse the home prior to the new year. This is referred to as a “spring cleaning” in Chinese Traditions, and the Lunar New Year is called the “Spring Festival.” The ritual of sweeping removes harmful spirits lurking in the corners of one’s home. Windows are washed, parts of a house might be repainted, and renovations to the home are completed.
The day for sweeping marks the beginning of the major pre-holiday housecleaning projects, and on this day, according to tradition, the Kitchen God who has been watching over the household departs to the Jade Emperor in heaven to give his report of the household activities. If the individuals had been generous throughout the year, they will be rewarded in the next. But had they been unkind, the following year might bring hardship.
Lunar New Year is celebrated with one’s family, and individuals travel great distances to return home. Rituals include honoring family’s ancestors, and families eat foods with great symbolic meaning. One of these is a whole fish because in Chinese, fish is called yu. This is a homophone for the word meaning “surplus” or “abundance” in Chinese. Dumplings (jiaozi) are also eaten because the Chinese word for dumpling sounds like a term meaning “the meeting of the last hour of the old year with the first hour of the new.”
Children are given red envelopes (hongbao in Chinese) from their parents, and each envelope contains New Year’s money. Many individuals will furthermore wear clothes that are red because the color is said to bring good luck.
Celebrations continue until the 15th day of the first lunar month, known as the “Lantern Festival.” This day signals the end of the new year festival period, and it is another occasion for inviting guests to one’s home and holding feasts.
2021 marks the beginning of the Year of the Ox, who is an animal known for being grounded, loyal, gentle, and trustworthy.
Asia For Educators. The Lunar New Year: Rituals and Legends. http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_general_lunar.htm
Steph Yin. “What Lunar New Year Reveals About the World’s Calendars.” New York Times. Feb. 5, 2019.
Bodhi Day commemorates when Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha by reaching enlightenment (bodhi) while sitting under the Ficus religiosa tree (a bodhi tree). There the Buddha experienced the three stages of true enlightenment as described in the Pali Canon ( a collection of scriptures in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition) (Cohen):
Celebrations of Bodhi Day include meditating, studying the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha), chanting sutras, and holding services to honor Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment. “Some may decorate a Bodhi tree, string up colorful lights to represent the paths to enlightenment, or celebrate with a traditional meal of rice and milk (or cookies in the shape of the Bodhi tree)” (Cohen).
Bodhi Day’s significance connects to the story of Siddhartha Gautama 566(?) to 480(?) B.C., an Indian warrior-king’s son who lived a life of privilege (Basics of Buddhism). After leaving the comforts of his royal life and discovering life was full of suffering, he renounces his princely title to become a monk in the hope of understanding the truth of the world around him. Bodhi Day honors Siddhartha Gautama transformation into Buddha through the “discovery of a path to the resolution of why people must suffer on earth”: “Buddhism teaches that all things have Buddha nature or the potential to become a Buddha. And so Buddha is the enlightened one. It is a state of true liberation from this world of confusion and delusion.” (Takashi Miyaji, “Buddhist Prepare”).
For Buddhist who follow the Chinese lunar calendar, the day of Buddha’s enlightenment is on the 8th day of the 12th month, which usually falls in January. For those who follow the Gregorian calendar, Bodhi Day is assigned a fixed date of December 8th, also known as Rohatsu, which means the 8th day of the 12th month (Cohen).
Picture of the Bodhi tree that Buddhists believe the Buddha sat under during his experience of enlightenment. It is located in Bodh Gaya, India, and is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists across the world.
Buddhists Prepare To Observe Bodhi Day, When Siddhartha Gautama Became Buddha.” NPR.Org, https://www.npr.org/2020/12/05/943453999/buddhists-prepare-to-observe-bodhi-day-when-siddhartha-gautama-became-buddha. Accessed 15 Jan. 2021.
Cohen, Laura Rosen. “12 Days of Celebrations - Bodhi Day.” Food Services, 15 Dec. 2015, https://ueat.utoronto.ca/12-days-of-celebrations-bodhi-day/.
Basics of Buddhism. https://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm. Accessed 15 Jan. 2021.