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Celebrating Lunar New Year 2024: Embracing Tradition and Renewal in California

Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media

In California, the Lunar New Year presents an opportunity for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities to come together in celebration, marking a time of renewal, tradition, and cultural significance. This year, the festivities span more than two weeks, starting on February 10, with traditions and celebrations being observed throughout the state.

The Lunar New Year is a festive season that holds significant cultural and astrological meaning. It follows the lunisolar calendar and welcomes the beginning of spring, the first new moon of the lunar calendar, and the changing of the zodiac sign.

2024 is the Year of the Dragon

In Sept. 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2596, officially recognizing Lunar New Year as a California state holiday. “I am immensely proud of the richness of diversity and backgrounds represented in our state and understand the importance of wanting to see one’s own experience reflected in state holidays,” Newsom said in a statement at the time.

In proclaiming Feb 10, 2024, as “Lunar New Year”, Newsom said, “Let us show support and solidarity for our AAPI friends, family and neighbors and recognize their irreplaceable contributions to our California story. As the Year of the Dragon begins, we wish happiness and good fortune to all.”

The origins of Lunar New Year festivals are thousands of years old and are steeped in legends. One legend is that of Nian, a hideous beast believed to feast on human flesh on New Year’s Day. Because Nian feared the color red, loud noises, and fire, red paper decorations were pasted to doors, lanterns were burned all night, and firecrackers were lit to frighten the beast away.

On the Lunar calendar, each year is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals. The animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. In addition to the animals, the five elements of earth, water, fire, wood, and metal are incorporated into the lunar calendar. Each year is associated with an animal and a corresponding element.

The year of the Wood Dragon in 2024 symbolizes a period of power, wealth, and transformation. It is anticipated to inspire individuals to seize opportunities, pursue their aspirations, and bravely tackle life’s challenges with resilience.

In California, AAPI communities celebrate Lunar New Year with different traditions, though there is some overlap. One of the most widely recognized Lunar New Year traditions is exchanging “red envelopes,” or “lai see” in Cantonese. “Lai see” are distributed by elder family members to younger ones to wish them prosperity. Other traditions include performing lion or dragon dances and lighting fireworks. It is also common to eat special foods; for instance, it is tradition in China to eat longevity noodles to bring oneself a long life.

At Disney California Adventure the world-famous mouse and his friends will celebrate the Year of Dragon with a Mulan Lunar New Year Procession with Disney characters dressed in special costumes, Asian food specials and a Wishing Wall made of ornamental lanterns.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated with various foods and traditions that symbolize prosperity, abundance, and unity. Houses are cleaned thoroughly to rid them of bad luck that might be left over from the past year. Some households hold rituals offering food and paper symbols to their ancestors. Older family members give out envelopes containing money to children. Sticky rice dishes, symbolizing unity, are a common part of the feast.

As Californians of all backgrounds come together to celebrate the Lunar New Year, they honor their heritage, strengthen bonds, and reflect on the diversity of cultures that populate the state. In the Year of the Wood Dragon, the spirit of the Lunar New Year is expected to shine brightly, steering Californians toward a future filled with promise and possibility.

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to https://www.cavshate.org/.

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