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Holiday history

The List: 5 facts about Lunar New Year

Douglas D.L. Chong, president of the Hawaii Chinese History Center
Douglas D.L. Chong, president of the Hawaii Chinese History Center, greets attendees at a Celebrating Lunar New Year stamp dedication ceremony in Honolulu last year.

The Postal Service released the 12th and final stamp in its Celebrating Lunar New Year series last week. Here are some things you may not have known about the holiday.

1. Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in many Asian cultures. In some countries, the celebration lasts several days and kicks off with parades, parties and festivals. In China, for example, Lunar New Year is marked by a weeklong public holiday and travel to see relatives in other cities.

2. The date changes each year. The holiday is based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Unlike Westerners, who see time as linear, the Chinese record time as a series of five repeating 12-year cycles. The calendar uses a different animal to represent each year, which starts anytime from mid-January to mid-February. In 2019, the Year of the Boar, the subject of the Postal Service’s new stamp, begins Tuesday, Feb. 5.

3. The holiday has ancient roots. The Lunar New Year began as an annual harvest celebration and became a national holiday during the Han dynasty, which began in 206 BC. Since 1911, when the old Chinese calendar was replaced with the Western one, the Chinese New Year’s Day has been known as the beginning of the “spring festival.”

4. Different nations have unique traditions. In China, adults commonly give children and other family members red envelopes that contain money. Dumplings and fish are common holiday dishes. Koreans don traditional clothing and prepare rice cakes, while the Vietnamese prepare fruit platters to honor their ancestors. In Los Angeles, San Francisco and other American cities with large Asian populations, the holiday often involves large family dinners.

5. The Postal Service has a long tradition of commemorating the holiday. The organization has offered two series: Lunar New Year, which ran from 1992-2007, and Celebrating Lunar New Year, which began in 2008 and concludes with this year’s release. A third series is slated to begin in 2020.

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