Year of the Monkey

Lunar New Year explained

By Joyell Nevins

In America, a new year is often celebrated with a big party, some resolutions and kisses, and then by Jan. 2 we’re back to work or school.

However, in Asian cultures, the Lunar New Year is often a weeklong holiday and huge celebration, with a plethora of ways to bring good luck and wish prosperity and fortune to your family. Get a glimpse of these traditions with several celebrations around the Dayton area beginning Feb. 8.

“In Asia, we do not have as many celebrations throughout the year,” explains Mai Nguyen, the Wright State University Asian and Native American Center director, referring to how Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. “The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday.”

Shops shut down, schools and government offices are closed, people travel home to be with their families, and everyday life is put on hold.

“If you travel to Singapore, Taiwan, China or Vietnam during the Lunar New Year, it’s like a desert,” Nguyen laughs. “Everyone returns home or travels overseas together.”

The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so shifts in dates occur each year. It also has a 12-year zodiac cycle, with a different animal representing each year. Similarly to how young English children learn their alphabet, young Asian children memorize the zodiac calendar, Nguyen explains. The animal you’re born under is believed to have influence on your character and personality.

This year, 2016, is the Chinese year 4714 and the Year of the Monkey, corresponding to the Western sign of Leo. The New Year has been a ceremonial cause for celebration since the Yin/Shang dynasty (1600-1050 BCE). Nguyen said it was seen as a ceremony at the start of the year to provide sacrifices and prayers to ancestors.

After the People Republic of China (founded in 1949) began to follow the Gregorian calendar, the first day of the first month in the Lunar calendar became the celebration of the Spring Festival. The festival is also referred to as the Chinese New Year and “Tết,” a Vietnamese word for new.

Many preparations are made for the Lunar New Year, giving a whole new meaning to “spring cleaning.” Families thoroughly clean the house or paint it new to make way for incoming good luck. The home is filled with colorful flowers and fresh fruit. Blooms with special significance include the plum blossom and water narcissus, both of which are thought to bring longevity and good fortune. Doors and windows are decorated with paper scrolls and couplets carrying messages of good health, long life and prosperity.

The flowers, fruit and decorations are most always in shades of red. Red symbolizes happiness and is considered a very lucky color.

Another important part of the Lunar New Year is the giving of well wishes and new money between the elder and younger family members. Young children line up, often dressed in new clothes, and exchange well wishes with their elders.

They fold their arms, bow their head, and wish their parents and elders good health, happiness and longevity. The elders respond back by rubbing their head (if they’re younger), wishing good success in their studies, and giving red envelopes with new money, called “lai-see.” Old money is exchanged at the bank for this new, fresh currency, which is considered lucky.

“The amount of money in each envelope wasn’t much, a dollar or two, but it was the meaning behind the money that was amazing to me,” says Asian-American Nancy Nguyen. “Only elderly people can give to younger people. This was a way for the older generation to bless the new one, passing along blessings for fortune, health and luck in the New Year.”

Nancy says that was also how she first learned to manage money, by saving the money from all those little envelopes!

“It’s crazy how a little red envelope can mold you for the future,” she says.

Want to celebrate it? Thankfully, you don’t have to travel to Asia to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Many local Chinese restaurants will feature special menus with lucky foods on Feb. 8.

The Wright State University Asian and Native American Center will hold a special Lunar New Year celebration on Monday, Feb. 8, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will include renowned Chinese acrobat Li Liu and performances from schools with Chinese language programs such as Dayton Regional STEM school and Richard Allen school. The Miami Valley School will give a Chinese martial arts kungfu demonstration.

Attendees can get their fortune told, make a Chinese lantern, or get a photo with a Great Wall and Vietnamese New Year backdrop. The event is free. Food will be available for purchase from Timmy’s Wok.

Dayton Association of Chinese Americans will also hold an elaborate Chinese New Year party with acrobatics and musical performances on Sunday, Feb. 21.

For more details on either of these celebrations, visit or 

Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

Tags: , ,

Joyell Nevins
Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?


We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message.  

Oh my cod!


Something Rotten’s Bottom Brothers unseat Shakespeare Raising a toast! (Foreground L-R) Maggie Lakis, Josh Grisetti, Rob McClure, and Autumn Hurlbert. […]

A homestyle home run


The Bullpen Diner in Dot’s Market The Bullpen’s country fried steak, silver dollar potato pancakes, and eggs over easy. By […]

Don’t drink the green Kool-aid

Pickup from 122617 Dayton City Paper canstockphoto19090062

Forget the hype—true Irish beers are pure gold Skip the green beer, and go for the gold … or the […]

What to do in the Springs


Santa Fe Red by Sara Gray “Have You Red/Read It?” on display at The Village Artisans The Village Artisans gallery […]

Kansas resurrected


Classic Kansas Leftoverture LP live and more at Victoria Kansas (L-R) Rich Williams, Billy Greer, Zak Rizvi, Phil Ehart, Ronnie […]