Thursday, January 19, 2023

Celebrate Lunar New Year with Your Adoptive Family!

What is Lunar New Year?

While many western cultures celebrate the New Year on January 1st, many Asian countries celebrate the New Year based on the lunar calendar. Because the lunar calendar is a calendar of the moon's cycles and phases, the date of Lunar New Year changes each year and will always fall on a new moon between January 21st and February 20th. This year the New Year is on January 22, 2023. It marks the transition of the Year of the Tiger (2022) to the Year of the Rabbit (2023)! Many countries, including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet, have their own Lunar New year celebration and traditions. While some aspects of the holiday may be similar, specific customs and length of the holiday can vary depending on culture and region.

Why should adoptive families celebrate Lunar New Year?

Most children adopted internationally from China, South Korea, and other countries are usually matched with their forever families at a young age and may not remember much about their birth country and its rich culture. Getting together as a family to celebrate special occasions like Lunar New Year is a great way to honor your adopted child's heritage and another way to learn more about their birth country. If you're unsure where to start, we have provided key information to help you get started- specifically if you are wondering how to celebrate the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) or Korean New Year (Seollal). We hope you and your family will enjoy learning about both celebrations and some of the similarities and differences between how each of these cultures celebrates this memorable holiday, and find some activities you can do together!

What is the Year of the Rabbit?         

Each lunar year is associated with a zodiac animal based on Chinese astrology. There are a total of 12 zodiac animals which re-occur on a 12-year cycle. This year, 2023, marks the year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is known for its speed. In Chinese culture it si also associated with the moon, the Earthly Branch, and the hours of 5-7 in the morning. Those born in the year of the Rabbit are thought to be talented, polite, kind, affectionate and social.


(Happy New Year!)

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is a 15-day celebration marking the coming of Spring and of a new year based on the Chinese Lunar calendar. It is considered one of China's most important holidays. While only the first seven days are considered an official public holiday, celebrations can last up to 15 days. This year the New Year falls on Sunday, January 22nd and the public holiday in China is from January 21st to January 27th.

What is the history behind Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year dates back more than 3500 years and its exact beginnings are unknown. It's believed to have first originated during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), when it was common to hold sacrificial ceremonies to honor gods or ancestors at the beginning and end of the year. An ancient legend portrays a monster named Niam who came once a year (on New Year's Day). Putting up red lanterns, crackling bamboo, and wearing red (a lucky/auspicious color in Chinese culture) were thought to scare him away. Over time these traditions have evolved to spectacular decorations, firecracker celebrations, and more to celebrate the new year. 

What are some traditional customs and activities?

Preparations for Spring Festival may begin well in advance of the holiday. While families typically wait until New Year's Eve to decorate their homes, public decorations such as red lanterns or door couplets may be put up a month in advance. Similar to New Year traditions in the United States, families will stay up late to bring in the new year together on Chinese New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve dinner is called reunion dinner, and it is important for families to be at home together during this time. Fireworks and public celebrations to mark the New Year are common and give gifts to others. One of the most popular items to gift others is red envelopes with money inside. Red is seen as a lucky color and is the primary color of the festival, so it is common to see others dressed in red or other bright colors on New Year's Day. Because it's the start of a new year, people may buy new clothes for the occasion.

New Year's Day is typically spent with fireworks and other celebrations and participating in offerings or rituals to one's ancestors. The remainder of the week off is spent visiting relatives and friends. The final day of Spring Festival on day 15 is called the Lantern Festival. On the night of the lantern festival, people will gather to celebrate by lighting lanterns, setting off fireworks, watching lion or dragon dances, and appreciating the full moon. Trying to solve lantern riddles (riddles written on small pieces of paper and placed inside paper lanterns) is a fun activity, with some lantern owners giving small prizes to those who guess correctly.

What are some traditional foods eaten during Chinese New Year?

Some traditional foods eaten during reunion dinner on New Year's Eve include fish, dumplings, spring rolls, Niangao (a sweet rice cake), and noodles. Behind many of the foods chosen are symbolic meanings for good luck and prosperity based on the food's pronunciation or appearance. For example, in Chinese, the word "fish" (鱼 Yú /yoo/) sounds like 'surplus' and is served as a wish for prosperity, while long noodles may symbolize a wish for longevity based on their length. Tangyuan (ball-shaped dumplings) are enjoyed at Lantern Festival, as the round shape of the balls symbolizes wholeness and togetherness.


Korean New Year is known as Seollal and lasts three days-the day before, the day of, and the day after the New Year. This year it is from January 21st to January 23rd.

What are some traditional customs or activities?

Korean New Year is a family holiday where time is spent honoring one's elders and ancestors. It's traditional to wear Korean hanbok during this day. Families will start New Year's Day with a ceremonial ritual called sae bae or she bae. In sae bae, one will bow deeply to the floor to honor their deceased ancestors or living elders. Following the bow of children to their elders, children might be given money as a small gift. Families will then spend the day feasting, playing traditional folk games such as yutnori, yeonnalligi (kite flying) for men and boys, and neoltwiggi (a Korean see saw game) for women and girls. Visiting the graves of deceased family members is also common, and there are special ceremonial rituals for honoring those who have passed on.

What are some of the traditional foods eaten during the New Year?

One of the most common Korean New Year meals includes a Korean rice cake soup. The rice cakes are round and resemble coins, representing a wish for prosperity and wealth. Their white color also brings wishes for a clean start and a new beginning. Eating the soup together also symbolizes the turning of a year older. Other common foods are dumplings and jeon (Korean pancakes).

Why does everyone turn one year older on the New Year?

Did you know that age was traditionally calculated differently in Korea than in other cultures and is not always associated with one's actual date of birth? In Korea, when babies are born, they are immediately one year old instead of considering them to be zero years old. Birthday celebrations are typically small, with the exception of one's first and 60th birthday, which hold great significance. Rather than adding a year to one's age on their actual date of birth, everyone adds one year to their age on the New Year. For example, if a baby is born close to the start of the New Year, they might turn two in only their first few days of life! A typical New Year's tradition is for families to eat the traditional rice cake soup (called Duk Guk or Ddeogok), symbolizing their turning one year older together. A familiar joke parents tell their children is that they won't turn a year older unless they eat their soup. Traditionally a year was added to one's age on lunar New Year, although it is now done on the solar new year (January 1st). Still, some older generations might celebrate this in the lunar new year, and the tradition of eating the soup together is still common.

One explanation behind calculating age like this is that the time spent in the mother's womb is counted towards reaching one year of age at birth, while others also point out that there may not have been the concept of "zero" in ancient times. Turning one year older collectively is also seen as a way the Korean culture values collectivism and emphasizes hierarchy and respect for one's elders. Korea started using the Western-style system for calculating age in the 1960s, so one's international age (based on their date of birth) is used for more official things such as various legal age limits or entrance to the school, but it is still common to refer to someone by their Korean age in social settings.


Pick up some children's books such as these Korean New Year books or Chinese New Year books to learn and celebrate this holiday's fun history and traditions!

Get cooking! Whether you choose to make the traditional Korean rice cake soup, fish (customary to Chinese New Year), spring rolls, dumplings, or other traditional foods, you'll be sure to have fun and enjoy some delicious food together as a family! If eating out is more your style, many DC area restaurants are featuring food and restaurant specials. You can find a list of Lunar New Year inspired menus here.

National Museum of Asian Arts’ Lunar New Year Celebration – January 20th at 12:00PM; Celebrate Lunar New Year at the National Museum of Asian Art with free attractions for all ages, including a traditional lion dance performance, cooking demonstrations, hands-on crafts and activities, and Lunar New Year curator-led gallery tours. Featured exhibitions include Journey of Color; Rediscovering Korea’s Past; and Looking Out, Looking In.

2023 Annual DC Lunar New Year Parade – January 22nd at 2:00PM; Join spectators in DC Chinatown for a dynamic community-based parade including a range of cultural performances. The finale will include a firecracker show at 3:00PM in the middle of H street! Attendees can view a map of the parade route here and reserve a spot online for free.

2023 Annual DC Lunar New Year Parade – January 22nd at 2:00PM; Join spectators in DC Chinatown for a dynamic community-based parade including a range of cultural performances. The finale will include a firecracker show at 3:00PM in the middle of H street! Attendees can view a map of the parade route here and reserve a spot online for free.

Lunar New Year Celebration at Tyson’s Corner Center – January 28th from 1-3 pm; Hosted by the Asian American Chamber of Commerce and Tysons Corner Center, this event will feature a lion dance, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Indonesian music and dance performances, magic show, Mongolia fashion show, and Chinese dragon dance. It will take place at the Fashion Court in Tyson's Corner Center (TCC).

National Gallery of the Arts’ Lunar New Year Celebration – January 22nd from 3:00PM-3:20PM; Watch Korean drum troupe Washington Samulnori perform a concert at the art museum. The production will feature four instruments: the changgo (an hourglass-shaped drum), buk (a barrel drum), jing (a large gong), and kkwaenggwari (a small gong). Registration is not required. 

Lunar New Year Family Day Celebration at the Smithsonian – January 28th from 11:30AM – 3:00PM This event is put on by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China. Featuring Chinese and Korean traditions, it will include performances, crafts, face painting, an art scavenger hunt, food, and more! Free, online registration is required in advance.

Explore SAAM's Lunar New Year Family Zone for coloring pages, craft tutorials, and videos you can enjoy, all from your own home!

Lunar New Year Tasting Flight at Ice Cream Jubilee – Satisfy your sweet tooth with a Lunar New Year inspired ice cream tasting at Ice Cream Jubilee. Five unique flavors - caramel peanut butter cookie, dan tat brûlée, red bean almond cookie, roasted barley tea and pear plum wine vegan sorbet are available from January 13th to February 12th at Ballston, 14th St., and Navy Yard locations, or are available for shipping nationwide. Purchase a tasting ticket online.

For local families, check out the following guide for more lunar new year events in the DMV!


The Barker Adoption Foundation International Staff