Lunar New Years Dos and Don’ts

Hi All, I had a pretty important error in the original post. Lunar New Year for 2023 is Sunday, 22 JANUARY –two days away. Thus, I’m republishing the post so it lands in your inboxes with the correct date.

Lion dance on a street with fire crackersPhoto by Elina Sazonova on

It is Lunar New Year (LNY) – Sunday, 22 January. Lunar New Year is one of my favorite not-holiday holidays. It is one of the few times a year Asians get to publicly celebrate our Asian-ness and be full-out Asian.

Several Asian friends (Chinese and Vietnamese) let me eavesdrop on their LNY conversation. I’m Japanese-American, and most Japanese don’t celebrate LNY as heartily as other Asian ethnicities; Japan follows the Gregorian calendar of new years beginning 1 January. I like to celebrate LNY in solidarity with my other Asians.

Here are some LNY things to do and not do:

First Lunar New Year – It has nothing to do with white men walking on the moon or feeling like they conquered it (h/t Carrie). It is an ancient/old practice rooted in many communities, especially Asian communities – do not colonize the moon or lunar new year.

Celebrate Lunar New YearDon’t schedule meetings on this day and treat it like a normal business day
Call it Lunar New Year or if referring to a specific ethnic group’s celebration their name for the day: Chūn Jié in China, Tết in Viet Nam, Losar in Tibet, Seollal 설날 in KoreaDon’t assume everyone refers to the day in the same way. In the US saying Lunar New Years is a good way to encompass many Asian LNY traditions. Pay attention to regional differences too. In Hawai’i we referred to it as Chinese New Year because of the heavy influence of Chinese in Hawai’i, Seattle it is more commonly referred to as Lunar New Year.
Do learn some LNY greetings. Here is a helpful link for Chinese greetings Vietnamese greeting Korean greetingDon’t ignore the day or just grunt. When in doubt say Happy Lunar New Year and mean it.
Do give red envelopes filled with crisp moneyDon’t give crumpled or dirty money. Don’t give white death envelopes.
Do give money in red envelopes in even numbersDon’t give in denominations of four — $4, $40, $400. Four is associated with death.
Do give out red envelopesDon’t ask for red envelopes, very bad form
Do celebrate with live flowers (potted flowers) or in Vietnam peach (Hoa Dao) or apricot (Hoa Mai) blossoms.Don’t put out dead flowers, duh. Chinese do not believe in giving cut flowers since they are traditionally used in funerals.
Do clean your house before LNYDon’t sweep or take out the garbage on New Years day, superstition you’ll sweep or dump your luck away
Do eat lucky foods on LNYDon’t eat porridge for breakfast, you don’t want to start the year eating ‘poor people’s food.’ Along with this don’t eat meat for breakfast out of respect to Buddha
Do get a haircut and wash your hair BEFORE LNYDon’t use scissors, knives, or wash your hair during LNY. It is considered bad luck.
Do give giftsBut not these gifts (Chinese) – shoes, dolls, knives, and pears, see the link for the full list.
Do visit friends and relativesBut do it respectfully. A friend said her family practice in Hong Kong was to not visit on the third day, that was a day to rest so you didn’t argue with family. A very wise and practical practice.
Do remember many will celebrate with firecrackers to ward off evil spirits (or go watch other people’s firecrackers)Do not call the police reporting the noise or saying it is gunfire, put that Karen-ism away for LNY

Please remember there are many ways to celebrate LNY and different ethnic groups practice it differently. Some of the practices listed above skew more Chinese, so please don’t assume they are universal for all Asians celebrating LNY.

Happy Lunar New Year! Happy Year of the Rabbit (Chinese) and Year of the Cat (Vietnamese).

h/t to the side eye dog owners for prompting this post — KY, PCW, and BN.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.