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Is it Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year?

Why It is okay to say both
Jason Leung

Many people switched to using the Lunar New Year instead of the Chinese New Year to be more inclusive. Every new year, there will be people correcting others that it’s not Chinese New Year, but Lunar New Year or vice versa online. Respectfully, it is not wrong to call it Chinese just as it’s not wrong to call it Lunar New Year. 

Many people argue that the Chinese New Year uses the lunar calendar, thus it should not be called Chinese New Year. However, when saying Lunar New Year, people aren’t referring to just any lunar calendar, but instead, specifically, the Chinese lunisolar calendar which the Lunar New Year is based on. Some argue that it should not be called Lunar at all because technically, it’s not a full lunar calendar. Other cultures like Korea and Vietnam have a calendar of their own, a variant of the Chinese Calendar with similar counting of days and zodiacs. 

In China and some other countries, the term Lunar New Year is unfamiliar as it’s popularly used by Korea and Vietnam. Just like LNY (Lunar New Year), CNY (Chinese New Year) has been commonly used in the US for a long time, but also worldwide. In Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, it’s recognized as, “Chinese New Year,” and “Spring Festival” In China. 

To clear up possible misconceptions, in a Chinese household they neither say Lunar or Chinese New Year in their language. When speaking they commonly say “Happy New Year” or “新年快乐” Xīnnián kuàilè in Mandarin Chinese. 

A lot use “Chinese New Year” to not confuse it with the New Year celebration of the Gregorian calendar we use today. This is just a possible speculation, but the term “Chinese New Year” was most likely popularized by Americans seeing New Year celebrated in Chinatown or by Chinese immigrants in general. To not confuse it with the Gregorian New Year, it’s given the name Chinese New Year and has been accepted by many. It is not intended to mash cultures into one or make one group less important, rather it was to make a distinction from the Gregorian New Year.

People outside of Korea or Vietnam might even be confused when it’s called Lunar New Year simply because they don’t call it that.

Many non-Chinese communities, most prominently, Koreans and Vietnamese, call it Lunar New Year in English. However, it’s not the most peculiar thing for them to also say Chinese New Year as it is for Chinese Americans to say Happy Lunar New Year. To many, it’s no big deal, but some claim saying CNY is offensive because it assumes that everyone who celebrates it is Chinese. However, the other side can argue that getting upset over calling it “Chinese New Year” sounds like cultural appropriation. While advocating for others to say “Lunar New Year” the cultural influence is often left out of the discussion leading to others calling it out as “appropriation.”

Although each Asian culture that celebrates this holiday has its unique traditions and beliefs, a lot of the traditions celebrated have their roots in China. For instance, the lion and dragon dance can be seen being performed during New Year’s amongst some Asian communities and is of Chinese origin. Giving cash in red envelopes symbolizes good luck and wards off evil spirits and is often handed out during Chinese New Year or weddings in Chinese culture. Similarly, this tradition also spread through parts of Asia and is also seen in Vietnamese culture during the New Year’s celebration.

As of now, Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year are common phrases used interchangeably in the US. If people aren’t happy with LNY and people aren’t happy with CNY, what should it be called? Some people on Reddit answered that it should be called “Spring Festival,” others say Lunar if the discussion involves other ethnicities and CNY if only Chinese people are involved.

Besides being common to say, the reasons why some people prefer to call it LNY instead of CNY are 1. they aren’t Chinese 2. Inclusivity and 3. Break the stereotype that all Asians are the same. Although some argue the name is inaccurate, the name isn’t the most important detail since many names given to things don’t always match up to what they are. For example, French fries aren’t from France, but Belgian and century eggs aren’t a hundred years old. Moreover, the Lunar New Year isn’t intended to erase the cultural background, but more so other communities also get the recognition. At this time, Lunar New Year is respectably said amongst many with about 2.5M posts on Insta. 

It’s clear that not everyone who celebrates it is Chinese, but it is not far of a stretch to call it Chinese New Year to reference the culture embedded in it. At the end of the day, the Lunar/Chinese New Year is not intended to be offensive, its origins are from Chinese culture, and is shared by many other non-Chinese who have their version of the holiday. The problem seems to lie in ignorance. It’s up to the person, knowing the situation, to decide whether or not which name is more appropriate, “Happy New Year” might be the safer route.


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