Why we should use the phrase “Lunar New Year”

January 23, 2020

In principle, Tết and Seollal are both very similar to each other and Chinese New Year. In all three cultures, red envelopes, family gatherings, large meals and superstition make common appearances. All three cultures are celebrating the beginning of the lunar calendar.

But the problem arises when all three are thrown under the blanket term “Chinese New Year.” The term in its purest form implies that this holiday is exclusive to China and the Chinese people. By casually calling this day “Chinese New Year,” we are forgetting the many other East and Southeast Asian cultures that celebrate the beginning of the lunar calendar.

In mainstream media and in today’s culture, Lunar New Year is not a new phenomenon. There is everything from a movie about Peppa Pig celebrating Chinese New Year to posts on Instagram with lion dances in the background to Gucci selling merchandise for the year’s zodiac animal. And although many brands and news sources have begun to stray away from calling the holiday “Chinese New Year” and have begun using “Lunar New Year,” the popular term is still exclusive to the Chinese culture.

If you Google “Lunar New Year 2020,” the blurb which pops up to tell us the date specifically says, “Chinese New Year 2020; Saturday, Jan. 25.” If you look up the Wikipedia page for Lunar New Year and compare it to the page for Chinese New Year, the page for Chinese New Year is at least five times longer, despite being the less general event.

But generalizing Lunar New Year as Chinese New Year is more than just saying the wrong word and using the wrong name. It is indicative of the much repeated pattern of a diverse and multicultural society trying to group seemingly similar cultures in attempts to simplify the task of understanding the many types of people in a community. 

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