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Happy Chinese New Year – Year of the Tiger!

Ila Bonczek
Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
Published: February 1, 2022
Bengal tiger wading in a river. 2022 is the year of the water tiger, signifying creation, challenge and caution. (Image: Pexels)

As the Chinese, or Lunar New Year begins, we enter a new zodiac. This year, 2022, is the year of the tiger, based on the Chinese 12-year cycle. Over a billion people around the world will be celebrating Chinese New Year, which comes with  traditional customs that vary a bit with each Asian culture. In pre-pandemic years, it was a time of extensive travel for those with far-off relatives.

The tiger is regarded as the “king of all beasts” in China, and those who are born this year, 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938 or 1926, are believed to be endowed with great courage and confidence. “Tigers” are known for being passionate, generous, just, and always at-the-ready with a helping hand. The animal is also believed to ward off evil. 

Chinese zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is a 12 year cycle featuring different animals, each with its specific characteristics and tendencies. For instance, Tigers should avoid marrying Snakes or Monkeys, but make a good match for Pigs, Horses, and Dogs. (Image: RootOfAllLight via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

The lunar year

While China adopted the Gregorian calendar for civil and public purposes in 1912, the lunar calendar continues to be used to determine the proper time for farming activities, community events and annual festivals.  

The Lunar New Year can start in either the Gregorian January or February, depending on the phases of the moon. The new year holiday begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice, which this year falls on Feb. 1. It is seen as the beginning of spring, and is thus also known as the Spring Festival. 

The celebrations go on for 15 days and include a variety of rituals and traditions. 

Hong bao, or red packets, are stuffed with crisp bills and given to young children. (Image: michael mccomb via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Traditional customs

According to legend, the celebrations began as an attempt to scare away a threatening mythical beast called “Nian” (meaning year). Loud noises and the color red were said to frighten this spring-time terror. 

Money-stuffed red envelopes, known as “hong bao” are typically gifted to young children; while fireworks, parades, dragon dances, and lanterns are used to scare off evil spirits and misfortune. Red and gold decorations and apparel are thought to bring good fortune.

While every family may have their own individual traditions, it is common to visit religious temples,  thoroughly clean the house, and hang out lanterns during the Chinese New Year.  

Chinese dumplings are thought to bring good fortune both because of their shape, and their auspicious contents. (Image: magical-world via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Traditional foods

As with many holidays, food plays an important role in the Chinese New Year. Families gather together for the preparation of dumplings. Shaped like the tael, an ancient weight in gold, dumplings are symbolic of good fortune. Long noodles are served to bring long life, and Fish, “yu,” a homonym for the word meaning surplus, is eaten with hopes for abundance in the upcoming year.

Chinese New Year celebrations will once again be dampened by pandemic restrictions. Traditional visits will be replaced with zoom and video chats, money gifts are being sent electronically, and gatherings are limited and restricted. Many annual events, like Chinatown’s parade in Washington D.C., will be canceled for fear of spreading the latest COVID variant.