Skip to content

It's almost Lunar New Year; Here's how to celebrate the Year of the Tiger

Jan. 31, 2022
10 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Feb. 1 marks the start of the Lunar New Year, when people across the world typically gather to celebrate the largest annual holiday for many Asian cultures from China to Vietnam to Tibet. This year they are celebrating the Year of the Tiger.

Although many Asian countries are closed to tourists currently, in-person celebrations across the U.S. have resumed after two years of largely virtual celebrations due to COVID-19.

So what exactly is the Lunar New Year, and how can you join in the festivities wherever you are?

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

(Image by Exxorian/Getty Images)

The origins of Lunar New Year

The lunar new year begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends 15 days later on the first full moon of the lunar calendar.

This all-important holiday sets millions of people across the globe in motion each year as they would typically travel home to usher in the new year with their loved ones before COVID-19 closed down international travel.

(Photo by Pan Hong/Getty Images)

Although it has Chinese origins, Lunar New Year and Chinese New Year are actually different holidays celebrated on different dates and by different cultures.

"Lunar New Year isn't called Chinese New Year (e.g. in Vietnam) even when it's on the same date," according to Chinese Highlights, which curates tours for visitors to China.

Having said that, other names for Lunar New Year include Spring Festival, or Seollal in Korean or Tet in Vietnamese.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

This year’s festival will usher us from the Year of the Ox into the Year of the Tiger.

Chinese folklore and legends tell of a terrifying beast called Nian (年) — a homonym for year in Chinese — that used to emerge from the ocean to devour crops, livestock and even people. After years of terror, a smart villager finally realized that the beast feared loud sounds as well as the color red.

So whenever the beast came in future years, the village would plaster their homes with red banners and lanterns, beat loud gongs and set off firecrackers to frighten it away. Eventually, their efforts paid off and Nian never returned.

The festival also has roots in agriculture; farmers would appeal to the gods to bless the harvest later in the year. In many cultures, the first guest to enter a household represents the family’s luck for the coming year.

While many aspects of celebration are similar, such as the feasting and festive atmosphere, Vietnamese Tet traditions vary from its Chinese counterpart in some ways.

Lunar legends

The Lunar New Year festival has been observed for more than 3,500 years throughout Asia, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Burma, Vietnam, Korea and Tibet, as well as regions worldwide that have strong Chinese influence or diasporas such as Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and throughout the United States, Europe and Oceania.

The Chinese zodiac celebrates 12 animals. (Image by Shutterstock)

Several countries share the ideology behind the Chinese zodiac, which features 12 animals: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the chicken, the dog and the pig. Each animal represents one year in a 12-year rotation, and people who are born in a specific year consider the return of their “animal year” to be particularly important in their lives.

Even so, others have their own takes on the zodiac. The Japanese zodiac features a very slight change, with a boar instead of a pig. The Vietnamese version features a buffalo instead of an ox, and a cat instead of the rabbit. The Thai zodiac swaps the dragon for a naga, a mythical creature that looks like a giant snake. And the Burmese zodiac features eight animals that represent the directions of a compass.

Red envelopes are a unique characteristic of the Lunar New Year festival. In Chinese culture they are considered lucky and are exchanged between friends and family members with a very specific hierarchy in place. Older generations, such as parents and grandparents (or close friends in similar roles), gift lucky red envelopes filled with cash to children, along with their intangible wishes of luck and safety.

Read more: I’m Asian American. Here’s how the pandemic changed how I view travel

(Photo by Ata Mohammad Adnan/Getty Images)

In Chinese culture, the cash gift is called “ghost-suppressing money,” designed to keep another monster called Sui from attacking children. Of course in modern days, children also see the gift as spending money for the year.

However, after children grow up, the tables turn: Once young adults get married or become financially independent, they are expected to give red envelopes to their elders — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles — as blessings for health and longevity as well as a gesture of filial piety, meaning respect of one's elder family members.

You may also know about the Lunar New Year lion dances, which can be elevated to a competitive sport in many ways. The dances are designed to attract luck and good fortune for the new year and are performed by two people, one bent over behind another to create a series of elaborate movements that propel the lion costume back and forth in impressive feats of skill.

Cross-cultural celebrations

Regardless of nation, the vast majority of Lunar New Year celebrations revolve around the same elements: feasting, especially with special occasion foods specific to the holiday; festive decor with a heavy emphasis on red and gold; firecrackers and fireworks; and gathering together with family and friends.

Every country has its own unique spin on new year traditions, but they also share some similarities. Food is an integral part of the celebration. It’s a cardinal sin to run short on refreshments for any guest in many Asian cultures, so each household stocks up on snacks and treats in addition to meal fare to avoid any possible shortage.

(Photo by Jordan Lye/Getty Images)

The Lunar New Year also calls for many special foods, which often represent auspicious wishes for health, longevity and prosperity. Dumplings, duck, noodles, oranges and rice all feature heavily in Chinese celebrations. And since Chinese homonyms are popular for luck, whole steamed fish is especially popular because of a Chinese saying, "nian nian you yu" (年年有餘), where the last word is a homonym for “abundance.”

For many, the new year represents a fresh start, so homes need to be thoroughly cleaned before the first day to avoid “sweeping out” your luck with the new year. Many households also avoid taking out the trash for the first few days of the new year as well, so as not to carry out their blessings for the year.

Traditionally, the new year was also a time when everyone received new clothes that would tide them through the year to come, so expect to see fancy new outfits around Lunar New Year time.

Read more: From round-the-world bookings to lower surcharges: The complete guide to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Of course, each country has its own traditions. Malaysians celebrate a tradition called yee sang, or a “prosperity toss,” where participants toss a plate of salad into the air for luck and blessings throughout the year. Ancestral worship and respect is a big part of the festival for many cultures, including the Vietnamese. And in places like China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and even San Francisco and New York, it’s common to see red banners adorned with lucky sentiments lining the doorframes of shops, homes and other buildings.

What will celebrations look like this year?

In non-pandemic years, Lunar New Year drives up the cost of flights between Asia and other continents because so many people travel to their countries of origin to visit with extended family — just like Western cultures emphasize the Christmas season.

As Beijing prepares to host the 2022 Olympic Games starting Feb. 4, the Chinese government has urged citizens to avoid leaving the city for celebrations. Despite this, the Chinese Ministry of Transportation predicts 1.18 billion trips during the Lunar New Year travel season, up 35% from last year, as reported by CNN.

Preparation for the upcoming Chinese New Year and Spring Festival in Beijing. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Related: 10 places around the world to observe Lunar New Year

When possible, visitors to Asia should seek out cultural hubs in their destination city, such as temples and markets, to see the biggest celebrations. Here, you’ll often find bright lights, colorful decor, paper lanterns, food hawkers on every corner and loud festive sounds of every variety, from music to gongs to firecrackers.

This year, many cities in the U.S. are back to hosting in-person Lunar New Year celebrations, including Seattle, New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Houston.

Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas resorts are celebrating with festive decor, dining specials and traditional lion dances at their properties across the city, including Caesars Palace, Bally’s Las Vegas, Paris Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

Lunar New Year decor in the Caesars Palace main lobby. (Photo courtesy of Caesars Entertainment)

You can also find diasporic celebrations in Toronto and Vancouver this year.

(Photo by EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)

Home is where the heart is

Although 2022 marks another year that most of us cannot travel to Asia as the continent remains closed to tourists due to COVID-19, there are plenty of celebrations happening across the country.

Even if you can't make it to Asia for fireworks or fantastic food, Lunar New Year is, first and foremost, a family celebration.

TPG reporter Chris Dong says that for him, food and red envelopes are a key part of the holiday. "Growing up, the best part of Chinese New Year celebrations was all the meals with family and friends — and of course, receiving red envelopes stuffed with money from both sides of the family."

Although traditions evolve, Dong says that he "makes sure to feast on favorite dishes around the Lunar New Year period and soak in the festivities in Manhattan's Chinatown."

So get together with your people and wear your most festive clothing on Tuesday, Feb. 1, to usher in the Year of the Tiger.

Related: Omicron update: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Set up a game of mahjong, string up some twinkle lights in your backyard, wear red for good luck and pour drinks to get the celebrations started. When you get hungry, order in or make your own dumplings and noodles. Just be sure not to cut or break the noodles so that you don’t “cut your luck short.”

Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023