How do people celebrate Lunar New Year?

By Justin Yee

On January 28th, Asian cultures around the world will be celebrating the beginning of the Lunar New Year. The lunar year is based on the cycle of the moon’s orbit around Earth, which begins between January 21st and February 20th each calendar year. During this time, you might notice grocery stores and restaurants decorated with red, dragons, and cultural ornaments.

Different animals represent each year based on the Chinese Zodiac Signs, and celebrations typically last 15 days. As the Year of the Monkey comes to an end, we welcome the Year of the Rooster. Not just barn animals who once acted as alarm clocks, they represent fidelity, punctuality, and fortitude while symbolizing characteristics of confidence and motivation.

Just like other holidays, traditional celebrations are what make the Lunar New Year so special. Here are some of things you will see during the Lunar New Year:

Little red envelopes – Everyone LOVES receiving red envelopes on Chinese New Year. After all, who wouldn’t want to receive some extra pocket money?! The red envelopes are usually given from married couples to younger generations. It represents a symbol of good luck and the power to ward off evil spirits

Firecracker display – Firecrackers sometimes annoy parents when they are trying to put their young children to sleep. However, it is these loud noises that are believed to drive away any evil presences. It has also been said that the first person to light a firecracker when the clock strikes 12:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve is expected to have good luck for the rest of their life.

The number eight – Whether it’s betting on #8 in roulette, trying to buy a condominium on the 8th floor, or getting a custom license plate with Triple 8, the Chinese culture strongly believes that number 8 is lucky. The reason is simple: Eight pronounced in Chinese is “Ba” which sounds similar to the pronunciation of “Fa” (meaning wealth or fortune in Chinese).

Watch for dragons – The dragon dance is one of the most traditional performances in Chinese culture. It is often performed in public settings and witnessed by many people looking to get in the New Year’s festive spirit. The dance is performed by multiple dancers underneath a long flexible dragon figure, using various movements to simulate the motions of a dragon. This legendary creature has often been used as a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for those who have earned it.

Enjoy traditional foods – Don’t get too hungry reading this. While just about every Chinese dish you could possibly think of is served at some restaurant or family dinner on Chinese New Year, there are many dishes that symbolize positive feelings. Some of the most common traditional foods include Poultry (a whole chicken representing good marriage between families), spring rolls (representing wealth since it looks like a gold bar), turnip cake (representing fortune), and dumplings (Eat as many as you want! It is believed the more you eat, the more money you will make in the near future).

The lantern festival – This marks the 15th and final day of the Lunar New Year celebration. On this day, people of all ages light their Chinese lanterns and go out to try and solve the riddles on other lanterns. This attracts several visitors and challenges the minds of even the most sophisticated individuals. In addition, a common dish known as Yuanxiao (dumpling balls made of sticky rice flour) has become an essential dish in the tradition of the festival.

We reached out to some employees across Manulife to see how they celebrate the Lunar New Year:

Sue Zhang, Senior Fund Administrator (Oakville, Ontario). Born in Beijing, China

Sue Zhang, Manulife employee“Chinese New Year is the perfect time to wear the traditional red clothing, as this colour represents good luck in our culture. Each lunar year, I prepare a main feast on New Year’s Eve, consisting of red chili for good luck, rice for harmony, and fish as a sign of prosperity. Back in my hometown, people set off fireworks for 15 straight days, as a thought to scare off evil spirits.”


Katie Lee, Manager of Global Investment Accounting & Capital Advisory COE (Toronto, Ontario). Born in South Korea

Bowl of Ddeokguk (rice cake soup)“Lunar New Year (called “Seollal” in Korean) is one of the most important holidays in Korea. During this time, individuals return to their hometowns and re-connect with relatives. Seollal begins with a ritual called “Saebae”, where children wish their elder relatives a happy new year by performing a deep bow. Following Saebae, the elders give words of blessing to the children along with money in a Silken (embroidered pouch). Seollal celebrations also involve large amounts of food, including Ddeokguk (rice cake soup), which is a new year’s dish that symbolizes prosperity and purity.”

Chris Wong, Business Process Associate (Quezon City, Philippines). Born in Manila, Philippines

Chris Wong celebrating Lunar New Year“Every Lunar New Year, my relatives and I have a family re-union. The dinner is held at a different restaurant chosen by one of my Uncles. The event lasts for several hours and consists of mostly eating and laughing. This has been a trademark event for my family which has lasted several generations and although it makes me feel old every time I see my younger cousins growing up, it is always a fun and joyous time having the family together.”




Read these 10 things you might not know about Lunar New Year

See how Manulife celebrated Lunar New Year for Year of the Monkey

We wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous Lunar New Year! Or shall we say: “Kung Hei Fat Choi” (Cantonese) / Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin).