2024: Year of the Dragon

Images from author and Ivar Shih.

Lunar New Year is the celebration of erasing the bad and the old and welcoming the new and the good. Typically lasting 15 days, it is celebrated in many Asian cultures such as Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean, South Korean, and Vietnamese. This year, Lunar New Year falls on February 10 and during this time people practice many different traditions such as participating in the lantern festival and eating lucky foods. In addition, many worship ancestors, exorcize evil spirits, and pray for good fortune.

It is believed that the Lunar New Year was created during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC). Under Emperor Wu of Han, the tradition of carrying out rituals on the first day of the Chinese calendar year began. This holiday has ancient roots in China when it was an agricultural society. People celebrated the harvest and worshiped the gods asking them for good harvests in the future. In 1949, under the rule of Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong, the government forbade the celebration of this holiday; by the end of the 20th century, Chinese leaders were willing to accept the tradition again.

The holiday not only welcomes good fortune but also the representative zodiac animal. 2024 is the year of the dragon, which is associated with authority, prosperity, and success. The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme based on the lunar calendar; it assigns an animal and its reputed attributes to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. There are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. According to myths, the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were selected through a race created by the Jade Emperor. This race is meant to create a time measurement for the people. There could only be twelve winners and in order to win, the animals had to cross a rapid current river and reach the finish line on the shore. Even today, the Chinese zodiac animal sign associated with one’s birth year is widely embraced and celebrated as an important part of one’s culture.

One of the most popular traditions is the lantern festival, which originated in the Han Dynasty when Buddhist monks would light lanterns on the fifteenth day of the lunar year in honor of the Buddha. The rite was later adopted throughout China. The lanterns symbolize driving out darkness and bringing hope to the coming year. Along with the lantern festival are the dragon performances. It is believed that dragons have control over all natural phenomena. By performing the dragon dance during festivals and celebrations, people seek to drive away evil spirits and usher in good luck and blessings for the community. Red is an important color for this holiday: “It is considered to be the color of luck and has the ability to ward off any negativity,” says Josephine Ng Lee, a junior at Washington High School.

There are many traditional desserts served to unite loved ones, such as nian gao (Chinese new year sticky rice cake), tang yuan (Chinese glutinous rice balls), egg tarts, and mooncakes. Amy Diep, a junior at Washington High School, and her family annually “purchase mooncakes, which are baked goods that can be either savory or sweet depending on the filling which ranges from salted egg yolk to just lotus paste.” The origin of the mooncake comes from a fanciful legend of Moon Goddess Chang’e. She became a deity upon drinking a potion for immortality given by the gods to her heroic archer husband Hou Yi, who is celebrated for shooting nine of ten suns in the sky. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolizes completeness and reunion, thus the sharing of a mooncake signifies the completeness and unity of families.

This holiday has a significant impact on not only those who participate in it but also those who observe it. It is a time for family reunions, honoring traditions, and taking part in festive activities and events to celebrate cultural heritage. This holiday extends beyond a certain region of the world and can be celebrated by any individual or group. It emphasizes community, family, and the universal themes of celebration and renewal which resonate with people globally.

Isabella Shimizu is a junior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Fremont, California. This is her first year with The Hatchet. She hopes to cover stories about the arts and important events in the Washington community. Isabella enjoys playing badminton and tennis for the school. In her free time she loves to bake, read, play with her shih tzu poodle, and listen to Wave to Earth. In the future she hopes to attend a UC and pursue a major in the STEM field.

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