When I was a kid, I celebrated the “Chinese New Year” in Malaysia with my family.
When we moved back to Australia seven years after living in Asia, to my confusion I learnt that the “Lunar New Year” is often used to refer to the “Chinese New Year” in Melbourne. Both phrases are used interchangeably literally everywhere here – on posters, flyers and billboards to name a few – time and time again.
Do the two phrases mean the same thing? Do people confuse the two terms?
Both phrases arguably have slightly nuanced differences. Many Asian cultures follow the lunar calendar, the dates of which are determined by the ever-changing cycles of the moon orbiting the earth, as opposed to the Gregorian or Western calendar. According to Wikipedia, the “Lunar New Year” refers to:
(T)he beginning of the year in several calendars. It is based on a lunar calendar or a lunisolar calendar.
When the lunar calendar begins in some Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and China, it is usually the Chinese who celebrate this event. Naturally, it makes sense for the terms “Chinese New Year” or “Spring Festival” to be generally thrown around in these places instead of the “Lunar New Year” – this is a celebration mainly for their culture, their race, an occasion not exactly relevant to the other ethnicities around them.
Likewise at the same time of the year in other Asian countries, the Vietnamese or the majority race celebrate what is normally called the “Vietnamese New Year” (Tết) in Vietnam while the Koreans the “Korean New Year” (Sŏllal) in Korea. Cambodians call the festival the “Cambodian New Year” (Chaul Chnam Thmey) and Thais “Thai New Year” (Songkran), albeit celebrating at different times of the year as both follow contrasting lunar calendars.
Each Asian group celebrates and ushers in the new lunar calendar in various ways. The phrase “Lunar New Year” is in a sense an umbrella term not only used to refer to the start of the new lunar calendar but also to all celebrations by all races that deem this time of the year significant. People of different Asian ethnicities make up minority Asian communities in Western countries, so it is debatably fitting to hear this term more here than the “Chinese New Year”.
I’ve always wondered what Westerners think when either phrase is mentioned. Do Westerners think only the Chinese celebrate the start of the Asian calendar? Do they think of the celebrations as over-the-top noisy and annoying? I’m inclined to guess some Australians think otherwise given that there are a multitude of Asian communities in their faces that put in a lot of effort into organising prominent New Year festivities in different suburbs each year.
Fireworks, firecrackers, lion dances, feasting and “Happy New Year” greetings in Chinese and English are all part and parcel of welcoming the new lunar calendar. At the end of the day, the “Lunar New Year” and “Chinese New Year” are synonymous terms that signify the start of something new.
A new year. A new beginning.
What comes to mind when you hear the term Lunar New Year/Chinese New Year?