On The Spring Festival, Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year: Different Perspectives Compiled

The article I wrote, followed by comments from friends, gives some light to different concerns and perspectives around a recent hot topic in the Chinese community. Thanks a lot to my friends who have shared their thoughts frankly; their names are listed in the Acknowledgement at the end. I found the rethinking and learning process very beneficial to me.

–Yang Wang

The Article

February 7, 2023


Chun Jie is translated into English as the Spring Festival (a word-for-word translation), the Chinese New Year, or the Lunar New Year.  From the first local news report in Maryville, California, in 1859, till 1984 when then-President Reagan bid his holiday wishes “on the observance of the Chinese New Year,” the name Chinese New Year had been used in North America for more than a century {1} {2}. Since the mid-1980s,  “Lunar New Year” has become a more popular term, considering there are people from other Asian countries who celebrate the same holiday according to the Chinese lunar calendar. The Chinese community has been highly accepting of all these names. However, in a recent couple of years, some people have become a bit concerned because there comes up other English designations of the holiday, revealing a trend in which they worry that their culture, or even themselves, might fall the victims to the rising political conflicts between China and the Western world.  


At the beginning of this year, the British Museum invited a performance troupe from an East Asian country – let’s call it W country – to do events.  The museum invited the public to celebrate the “W Lunar New Year” on its official Twitter account, which caused heated debates. The museum later deleted the tweet. It reminded me of an incident about two decades ago when I was in Ithaca, New York.


A lady from W country in the Cornell International Women’s Club organized a gathering with the theme of introducing the W New Year. I was always curious about other cultures, so I went with great interest. The more I listened, the more I thought it was so similar to the Chinese New Year, even in the tiny detail of eating rice cakes on New Year’s Day for good luck. They were more traditional in that the younger generation had to kneel down to the elders to pay respect which customs were generally not observed anymore in China. After her presentation, I asked which day Lunar New Year’s Day in her country was.  Only then did I realize that we were celebrating the same day. She didn’t mention anything about the origin of the W New year or its connection to Ancient China. I told myself it should be all right since she was just introducing a major traditional holiday in her country. However, I felt slightly uneasy in my heart. I think If she had explained a little about the origin when presenting the tradition, I would not have had the confusion, but would only have happily exchanged a “Happy New Year” with her and explored the similarities and differences of the customs between our two countries.


It made me re-think what on earth would be the best way to designate the holiday in English.  I once argued hard for the use of the Lunar New Year instead of the Chinese New Year when writing an invitation to a banquet at my kids’ high school in Scarborough, Ontario. That was about 6 years ago.  I was a communications volunteer for the organizer of the banquet, the school’s Chinese Parent Association.  Against the traditional term mentioned by the association, I wanted to be more sensitive to the feelings of the teachers and parents from other Asian countries.  I wanted to be more inclusive. But, could I not be as correct as I had thought of myself?  In the wake of all things happening, I have had more thoughts that I’d love to share with you and invite you to share yours for an open discussion.


I think Chinese New Year most accurately describes a holiday that originated in China and is observed according to the Chinese calendar. There are other peoples around the world who also use the lunar calendar to determine their New Year’s Days, like the Hindus, the Muslims, the Jews, and many indigenous peoples. The dates are different from one another. To use Lunar New Year, a generic, explanatory term to refer to the holiday according to the Chinese calendar, may appear more inclusive to some other Asian peoples, but is it fair to those who follow different lunar calendars?  By the way, strictly speaking, like its Hindu and Hebrew counterparts, the Chinese calendar is not even a purely lunar calendar but a lunisolar one incorporating the influence of the movements of both the Moon and the Sun on the calculation of seasonal changes of the Earth {3}.


From the angle of respecting history and cultural originality, the Chinese New Year has its merit, just like we might not want to change the name of the Hindu-Arabic numerals into something like “universal numerals”, even though the numerals have been adopted and used by different peoples across the world for a long time. The holiday has existed for about 3,500 years, almost two thousand years older than the invention of the Hindu-Arabic numerals. In the beginning, people celebrated the holiday at the end or the start of a year to worship their ancestors and gods and to pray for a good harvest from the heavens. The dates were set during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), and some important rituals were established during the same period that lasts till today, such as burning bamboo to make a cracking sound {4}. Over the course, people in different areas across China have developed their own distinctive customs, rituals, foods, decorations, and games to celebrate the holiday; related ancient poems are still being read in schools today. With the migration of people as well as the spread of ancient Chinese culture, some neighboring countries introduced the Chinese calendar and observed some of the holidays as well. Asian immigrants and their descendants have brought this festive tradition to the rest of the world. With its long history and rich cultural connotations, its worldwide influence, and the fact that more than a billion people celebrate it, the majority of whom are Chinese, I now see nothing inappropriate about calling it the Chinese New Year. Cultural heritage belongs to all mankind, and the Chinese deserve the name for creating it and preserving it for so long.


On the other hand, I can understand the feelings of other peoples who celebrate the same holiday. Imagine that I were one of them and had been observing the holiday with my family since birth, that the holiday also had a long history in my own culture, with unique ways of celebrating it. All my memories of it related to myself, my family, and friends of my own heritage. If someone said to me, “Happy Chinese New Year,” wouldn’t I feel offended? Especially if I did not really like contemporary China due to all the grudges between my country and China and it could be that my own culture may have preserved more ancient Chinese elements in some areas than in today’s modern China?  I learned from my Chinese friend who lives in South Korea that many Koreans felt culturally close to China before the 17th century when the Qing Dynasty toppled the Ming Dynasty; when Mainland China established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992, people held a pretty friendly view toward China, many wanting to learn Chinese and traditional Chinese medicines;  in recent years, however, the attitude negatively changed a lot.  I believe as the birthplace of the ancient Chinese culture that has influenced quite some Asian countries and as a big power in the region, China should take more responsibility for making progress toward a more democratic society and improving the relationships with the neighbouring countries.


For the Chinese, we may want to reflect on why neighboring countries readily accepted China, and its culture was studied and adopted in ancient times, while today there are often calls for de-Sinicization in many parts of the world. For some other Asian countries, it might be good to give it thought on how to make a graceful turn from history to the present. For the world, there are a few questions we face together: How to balance the self-identities of majorities and minorities in a place of multiculturalism? Which way is more right – to focus on respecting history and originality or to focus on promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion? And, is it possible to put politics aside when DEALING WITH cultural ISSUES?


Perhaps there are no definite answers. Perhaps at different stages of history, the correct answers, if any, would differ. In real life, I would say “Happy Chinese New Year” to my English-speaking Chinese friends and “Happy Lunar New Year” or “Happy Spring Festival” to other fellow Asians, just like I’d say “Merry Christmas” to my Christian friends, and generally “Happy Holidays” to friends whose religions I am not sure about.


If I remember correctly, in the invitation I finally sent to the teachers and parents at my kid’s high school, I used the Spring Festival in the title and explained it was the same thing as the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year.  I really like this word-for-word translation – the Spring Festival. It sounds romantic, even philosophical, to me: in the deepest of the Winter, the Spring conceives; people celebrate the beginning of the Spring with joys and good wishes.


I wish I could let my fellow Asians know that I have a deep respect for their unique cultures and nationalities, and I am grateful that they actually, in some areas, have preserved more of the traditions of ancient China than some of the modern Chinese; that in the face of anti-Asian hate crimes and racial prejudice, we are one and all together, and when presenting the Asian heritage to the world, it is our difference that makes it rich and beautiful; I feel proud of them from the bottom of my heart for every achievement they make in the world, be it in arts, science, sports, humanities or business; if the mention of Lunar New Year can make them feel more respected and happy, while people from other cultures do not object, I would accept it.


However, I am not quite ready to see another country’s name in front of the term when culturally promoting the holiday outside that country without an acknowledgment of its origin.  I ask myself: is it because I have become more aware of protecting cultural originality, or have I become a bit protective of my Chinese heritage and fall narrow-minded? I am not from another country, so maybe I cannot truly understand how people from that country feel just by imagining.  I am therefore writing down all my thoughts honestly here, and I hope readers of different heritages will broaden my views with their own perspectives.


Maybe it does not matter at all which name we choose.  If we stand on the Moon and look at the Earth, we would not see national boundaries that separate peoples.  We could not even tell the difference between peoples and animals, or plants, or mountains or seas. In a time when the planet is being threatened by diseases, wars, climate change, pollutions, food and energy shortages, and political turbulences, it makes way more sense to let go of pride and prejudice, and celebrate an ancient festival together, to share joys and good wishes, and pray for peace and prosperity for the world.


Finally, From one Earthling to all, whether observing the holiday or not, I wish you and your families health, love, and happiness in the Year of the Rabbit. Happy Spring Festival of 2023!


For the Chinese version of the article, please click the PCE Club online magazine:




{1} Daily National Democrat (Maryville, California), page 2, Feb 2,1859

Provided by Mei Hua Shi Ji, How the Chinese New Year Were Celebrated in America 160 Years Ago ?



{2} Message on the Observance of the Chinese New Year



{3} Lunisolar Calendar, Wikipedia



{4} History of Chinese New Year, Timothy S. Y. Lam Museum of Anthropology



Selected Comments (in the order of time sequence I have received them)


From Chinese communities:


Many of my Chinese friends agreed with most of the points in my article and agreed it was the subtle shift of the intention behind that made them become more sensitive or protective – before it focused more on the inclusion of other Asian countries, which they had no problem with; now it felt like it was more on the exclusion of China and the Chinese culture for which they feared could cause even more marginalization, racism, and hate crimes against the people of Chinese ethnicity. There are other voices as follows.


“It does not matter that much to me as long as my audience knows what I’m referring to.  For general usage, I’d have the same choice as yours: the Spring Festival.” -Translated from Chinese.


“We’d be better off if we had made more effort to revive our traditions, like Chinese Kungfu and Chinese medicines, rather than care so much about a name.” -Translated from Chinese.


“A shift from Chinese New Year celebration to Lunar New Year Celebration is also noticeable in mainstream media in Australia. It is acceptable to me since many Southeast Asian countries share a similar tradition. In multi-cultural societies like Australia and Canada, the new term seems more inclusive, maybe even more politically correct.”


From outside the Chinese community:


“It’s a very honest exploration of a sensitive topic, and you acknowledge how others might feel about it as well as yourself. I just had a few thoughts – not so much editorial suggestions as aspects that occur to me.


The issue with the name “Chinese New Year,” I think, comes down to the fact that “China” is a nation-state as well as a culture. This is not the case with other major holidays around the world. The names of spring festivals from other cultures that are determined by the lunar calendar—such as Hindu (Holi), Persian (Nowruz), Muslim (Ramadan), Judaism (Passover or Pesach), and Christianity (Easter)—are not linked to the border of any particular country. They are transnational. And details of how they are celebrated vary widely from place to place.**

I doubt anyone from those cultures be the least sensitive or confused by having “Lunar New Year” used as specific to the date on the Chinese calendar. Passover is Passover—“New Year” is actually Rosh Hoshana in the autumn. So that’s not a reason to avoid using that specific term to translate “Chun Jie.”

The problem is that culture and politics aren’t separable entirely. I don’t know the details of China’s history, but we talked about that a little the other night—the dynasties have come and gone, and the borders today are not the borders of two thousand years ago or even a couple of centuries ago.  To say that the Chinese “created and preserved” the traditions of the festival is not the whole story – the traditions of the Spring Festival have also been actively preserved by the people living in countries like Vietnam or Korea who have not thought of themselves as “Chinese” for a long time.

One other comment: I don’t feel your analogy with Hindu-Arabic numbers is convincing. For one thing, number names refer to specific, abstracted quantities, not to a whole constellation of cultural practices and rituals. They don’t carry the same emotional baggage for people, they’re just names. Second, those words have been adapted from country to country and language to language. “Cinq” doesn’t feel foreign to French speakers, any more than ‘five’ feels foreign to English speakers, even though both go back to the same Proto-Indo-European root word. I’m guessing that Asian languages are also developing their own variations on the number of words that vary from one language to another.


Emotion is what has spurred this whole debate and many others like it in various cultural wars. “Chinese New Year” isn’t a specific name given for straightforward historical or rational reasons. It becomes a whole package of meaning and identity that people either adopt or reject. I think your initial instinct to translate the term literally as “Spring Festival” is one way to stay out of the box. Or, as with names like Nowruz or Passover, simply to use the original term “Chun Jie” – which would be good for us all to learn, even if we mangle the pronunciation with our English tongues. We’ve learned many other names, so why not this one?


PS–Admittedly, there are a few holidays, like “American Thanksgiving,” that do attach a nation’s name to a tradition. Still, they tend to be more recent and celebrated only within that country.


I think the concern about creating increased marginalization, racism, and resentment is well founded — though, sadly, that risk goes back much further than the current political regime. It’s an ugly part of North American history.  Racism is a crude instrument — at least in so-called ‘white’ societies, we’re all inclined to clump anyone with Asian features into the same “Chinese” basket, regardless of where they actually come from, even if that’s right here. Sigh.


Take care,”



“It’s really well written, and I wouldn’t change a word…


Growing up, I always knew the festival as the Chinese new year, and that’s how I will know it to my grave.


We cannot judge a culture or a people by its current political leaders. Whether they be right or wrong, right or left, it does not define a culture or the people who live within that country who simply want peace And love of mankind.


Political leaders come and go relatively quickly, but cultures last for centuries.


At the end of the day, the vast majority of people on earth want a peaceful life and existence void of political insanity, hatred, and discord for each other.

We should all honor each other’s culture and history and be respectful of the differences while celebrating the similarities.

Like you, at Christmas time, I greet my Christian friends with Merry Christmas and my other friends with happy holidays. I respect the cultures and the tradition and also those who practice or believe differently.


I respect any and all religions that teach the love of mankind and respect for life, and I equally disrespect any religion or culture that preaches hatred and disrespect for others.


I wish you a happy Chinese new year and all the very best in the year of the Rabbit.”



“This is a thoughtful and earnest piece, and it raises a host of issues on how to embrace difference in our society. 

On one hand, being inclusive means not just accepting difference but being open and curious about it, and celebrating the uniqueness of individuals and of cultures.  Greeting someone in the way, they would want to be greeted in their culture is a mark of respect, for the person and for the culture they embrace.  This can work for those with whom we are close and know intimately.  But what of those with whom we are not as close, who we know less well?  How to greet them without giving offense?

One cannot always – if ever – be sure of a person’s heritage, culture, or religious affiliation simply by looking at them. How would one appropriately wish Happy New Year to a Chinese Jew, for example?  Culturally, it would be appropriate to do so during the time of the Spring Festival.  But religiously, New Year’s for a Jew falls in the autumn, at Rosh Hashanah.  Should one wish that person Happy New Year twice?  Or not at all, for fear of getting it wrong?

On the other hand, some devout Christians are upset by what they see as the watered-down Christmas greeting “Happy Holidays”.  For Christians, Christmas is not just “a” holiday. It is a celebration of God-as-man coming into our midst, that act making our salvation possible,  which lies at the very heart of Christian belief.  Wishing someone “Merry Christmas” is a vital acknowledgment of one of such a person’s central beliefs, not merely the vague bestowing of a generic wish about “some” holiday or other.  Yet, to wish a non-Christian a “Merry Christmas” is to deny the validity of other religions by assuming that everyone is Christian.  Or – more insidiously – that they should be Christian.  It is, I think, to avoid this kind of insidiousness that those who advocate for political correctness go to such great lengths to eliminate specific cultural references in their dealings.  Because you just never know who you’re going to offend, or why.

But it also seems to me that we get too hung up on ‘what is said’, and we often miss ‘what is meant’ when worrying about how to approach these culturally charged situations. 

We err on one side or the other: Either we try to be so precise that we respect all of an individual’s uniqueness, their culture, their religion, their ethnicity, and greet them in a way that respects all of that complexity.  Or we reduce all our interactions to politically correct blandness for fear of offending everyone.  But neither of these approaches works terribly well.  The precise approach implies that we must diligently research the specifics of each person’s background and all their beliefs and then tailor a greeting that honours all of their individual complexity.  This is, quite simply, an impossible task.  Yet to go the other way, to make all greetings ‘generic’ for fear of offense is a denial of the richness that complexity affords, and this complexity is the very thing that makes people so fascinating and wonderful.  

If, on the other hand, we try to see past the words in the greeting and look instead at the emotion behind the greeting, we may fare better.  What is someone doing when they wish me a Happy Lunar New Year?  Or a Happy Spring Festival?  Or a Happy Chinese New Year?  They are saying to me, “I wish you, fellow human, joy, prosperity, and happiness.  These are not political impositions or cultural exhortations, they are not smug assumptions about my religious affiliation.  They are a call from one human being to another to share in the good things this life can offer.  They are a wish that we might all share in that emotional state that connects all of us.

I  am not a Christian nor a Jew.  But if a Christian wishes me “Merry Christmas” in December or a Jew wishes me “Happy New Year” in September, I can choose how I respond to their greeting.  I can become offended, saying, “that’s not my religion,” and “how dare you to assume I follow your faith”!  Or I can accept the emotion behind the words as a wish that I prosper, that my family and I thrive, and that I find peace in an unpredictable, uncertain world. 

A man I knew a number of years ago, an accountant who did my taxes every year, used to sign off every email with the injunction to “be well”.  I always thought this was an unusual way to end a missive.  But then I thought about it.  He wasn’t signing his communication with “sincerely” or “yours truly”, or anything like that. He wasn’t focusing on himself and his feelings. He wasn’t making it about him.  He was focusing on me.  On my well-being. He wished me good health. Every time he communicated with me.  He was practicing the art of wishing others well. And it struck me that this was an incredibly generous and human thing to do.  

Many of us worry, especially when expressing ourselves in another’s language, that we may not be ‘doing it right,’ that we may be getting the pronunciation wrong, or choosing the wrong words to express exactly what we mean to say.  And being precise in connecting with others is an admirable aspiration.  It conveys respect for the person you’re speaking to and respect for their language, their culture, or their religion.  But very often, even through mispronunciation, awkward grammar, and a limited vocabulary, we can still get the message through.  ‘I respect you’, ‘I wish you well’, ‘I hope you find peace and joy in your life’.

Sometimes, listening means listening to more than the words.  Sometimes acceptance means accepting the intention behind what is said.  And what is meant is often universal in a way that specific expressions in one of our many languages can’t be.

Thanks, as always, for putting your thoughts out there for all of us to reflect on.  And from the bottom of my heart, please accept my wishes for a very happy and prosperous Year of the Rabbit.”



“It is a fascinating topic – it’s really only last year that I started to really feel the shift to be more inclusive on a wider level with Asia general rather than country-specific, especially China.  I was writing a newsletter for work and had put at the beginning, ‘Happy Chinese New Year’.  An email came around stating that in Vietnam, the zodiac for 2023 was a Cat, but in China, it was the Year of the Water Rabbit.  I hadn’t realized that before.  I also had no idea how many other Asian countries may have a different animal for 2023.  I was told to change the picture and head to ‘Happy Lunar New Year’.  Of course, I didn’t want to offend anyone, but I was just ignorant of other Asian countries and their cultural ways.  But it is interesting.  I was told by a friend living in Vietnam that they believe it is the year of the Cat because ‘Cat’ in Vietnamese sounds like Rabbit in Mandarin.  Australia is really focussing on diversity, which is should, in the media.  There is much discussion around ‘The Voice’ referendum coming up for our Indigenous Australians and whether they will get a say in Indigenous policies.  I cannot believe how divided Australia is about this issue.  I cannot wait until we have a treaty with Indigenous Australians to address all the wrongs they have experienced after the settlement of Australia.”



“I think both Chinese New Year and Korean New Year are not correct.  Neither the solar calendar nor the lunar Calendar originated in China or Korea.  The Egyptians invented the solar calendar.  The earliest lunar calendar was created in the Middle East region.  The Chinese developed their own calendar based on these inventions.  Therefore, ‘Chinese New Year’ is not the correct terminology, not to mention other countries that celebrate the holiday, too, like Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore.  It is right to say ‘Chinese Spring Festival’ as it is a direct translation of the name in their own language.  We Koreans never deliberately tell other people the Lunar New year is the ‘Korean New Year’.  We just call it in our own language, ‘Hankook Seol Nal’.  People translate the Korean name into English, and it becomes ‘Korean New Year’.  Although the translation is right, to use it to define the holiday is not correct for the same reason  why it should not be defined as ‘Chinese New Year’.”


“This line from the article was very thought-provoking:

‘…thought on how to make a graceful turn from history to the present. For the world, there are a few questions we face together: How to balance the self-identities of majorities and minorities in a place of multiculturalism? Which way is more right – to focus on respecting history and originality or to focus on promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion? And, is it possible to put politics aside when DEALING WITH cultural ISSUES?’


My mother is a strong advocate of preserving cultural roots and identity – no matter where we are now, the influences around us, and the changes we face. She, and generations of Tamil Sri Lankans like her, fought for this freedom over centuries and have done their absolute best to pass this significant fight to the next generation – my generation.


There are those who lived to preserve culture, and those who were determined to make their people’s marks in history. Are we all those people? Probably not.


I am not as invested in this fight and find it to be a difficult one for my time. The strength of diversity, inclusivity, and curiosity around me has placed me on a path where I can acknowledge more than just my own background, and it makes me curious.


Though the practices and rituals of cultural festivities remain strong and wide around the world, meaning has changed for many of these days, names, doings, and sentiments. Buried deep in our cultural specials are the communities we share them with – love, friendship, celebration, and gratitude. Those reasons are wholesome and timeless.


However, along the way, each community has faced battles in disagreements, power shifts, relocations, and unfathomable loss. To make up for those struggles, we hold on tightly to whatever we’ve preserved thus far, and some of us are willing to continue nurturing our historical fights.


My perspective is, as we fight, let’s learn. As we cherish, let’s share. As we describe and educate, let’s open our curiosities and dig a little deeper into the roots of our traditions.”



“I think you are very fair and nuanced in your thought, and you are–really– ecumenical in allowing for different usages as circumstances arise.


I also liked–and agree with–many of the responses that your editorial generated. I appreciated most the response that made the point that we must not get annoyed by “what is said” but strive to appreciate ‘what is meant.’


Years ago, I attended a conference where another speaker claimed that anyone who uses ‘African-Canadian” in preference to ‘Black Canadian’ was demonstrating a ‘bourgeois’ identification and refusing ‘solidarity’ with the Black underclass. I denounced that perspective as ‘divisive.’ All nomenclature is useful, so long as the people or culture designated are not being viewed pejoratively.


So, for me, your essay is perfectly fine. Then again, as I mentioned on Monday, I think that we should do all we can to resist the wanton demonization of China that is being conducted in the Western media– DAILY.”



“My immediate reaction was to opt for Lunar New Year, which is the name we used at my Chinatown elementary school, but you make two very good points here that require rethinking my original position as well.


I understand this protective stance and often experience it with regards to Italian heritage and achievements as well, but then I remember that Europe was born out of the Ottoman Empire and Islam and that so much of national culture is about historical encounters, trade (The Silk Road), travel, conquest, etc.  Perhaps we need to be able to have pride in our own family and national heritage while maintaining an Internationalist spirit and philosophy. As I said to a filmmaker who was interviewing me about my Italian culture: I acknowledge the sexism my dear mother and older sister endured as Italian women–my own being lessened by education and growing up in Canada in the time of protest and counter-culture—but, I identify with the patriarchal oppression of all women in the world).  Perhaps, The Spring Festival appeals to me too, as the idea of spring seems to be present even in countries that don’t have seasons, as festivals of rebirth .”





Many thanks to the friends for sharing their thoughts and perspectives frankly.  The conversations are so eye-opening, and they lead to the ongoing exploration of how we may understand each other and work together toward more connections instead of separation.


In alphabetical order, the friends are:

Ramya Amuthan, George Elliott Clarke, Martin Copeland, Mandy Van den Elshout, Alice Major, Park Jong Taeg, Giovanna Riccio, Shaojun Tao, Ian White, Jenny Yuan, Joy Zhao


Thank you so much!

March 8, 2023

One thought on “On The Spring Festival, Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year: Different Perspectives Compiled”

  1. This is so well-researched and thorough. It is such a beautiful article. Thank you Yang for your sharing.
    “I wish you a happy Chinese new year and all the very best in the year of the Rabbit.” This is exactly what I received from my colleagues. We are together endeavour to respect people, culture and nature. Thank you!

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