The 31st of January is a special day for people whose cultures adopted the Lunar Calendar — a full lunar Year of the Ox has ended.
Different from the solar calendar, which records time in terms of the Earth’s completion of orbiting the sun, the lunar calendar is based on the different phases of the moon. Therefore, there are discrepancies in time measurements and definition of 'the New Year.' More than simply a timing system, the lunar calendar bears additional cultural meanings, one of which is the Chinese zodiac — a traditional classification scheme that assigns an animal to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. This scheme is widely practiced by Asian countries including Vietnam, Korea and China.
The completion of a lunar year is exuberantly celebrated by such countries, similar to the celebration of Christmas in the West. The Lunar New Year is significant because it is a special occasion where people can take a breather from their hectic work schedules, go back to their hometowns and reunite with their extended families.
During this time period, people practice many traditional activities to express their joy, and having a grand meal on the Lunar New Year’s Eve is the most important one. The meal symbolizes family integrity as well as a decent end of previous year; it carries over good wishes for the new year. On a typical Chinese family table, there are an even number of dishes, and one is a fish entrée, since ‘fish’ is a homonym for ‘excess’ in Chinese. Both 'table rules' bear the meaning of good fortune.
Although not being situated in the same cultural environment can make the celebration difficult, Asian communities on the East Coast of the US try their best to remain attached to their traditions. Delayed by 13 hours from China Standard Time, they still share their joy by sending blessings to family and friends, as well as having that big New Year’s Eve dinner.
On the 31st of January, Chinese restaurants all over the US were crowded by dine-in customers and takeout orders. Instagram even created Year of the Tiger story stickers for communities to share their celebration online. These behaviors not only are an opportunity to have fun together but also a confirmation of identity, especially when people are far away from home. Such confirmation is important to individuals as they get a sense of belonging by identifying themselves with people from similar backgrounds. This also gives valuable mental support, relieving their nostalgia towards their mother country, hometown and most importantly, family.