Why are people suddenly referring to the "Lunar New Year"?

I’m a bit confused, this year it seems like everyone is referring to the “Lunar New Year” happening a couple days ago. I haven’t heard this usage for Chinese New Year before. I can’t say it makes much sense to me since you can pick any set of lunar months approximating a year to be your new year. It would make more sense if Chinese tradition had produced the only well known lunar (well, lunisolar) calendar, but, notably, Muslims (lunar) and especially notably to Americans*, Jews (lunisolar), have such calendars as well.

My guess is that it’s because a lot of East Asian countries such as Korea, Mongolia, and Viet Nam celebrate similar holidays that usually fall on the same day so we find it a bit gauche to say it’s “Chinese.” But if that were the case, I would’ve expected a bit more of a media mention about it in the last few years changing peoples’ behavior. I’m finding a few articles here and there mentioning the fact, but very few things telling people to favor “Lunar New Year”.

So where did this come from all of a sudden? Did this happen before and I just never noticed?

Whatever the reason, it’s not a problem, usage and terminology changes; it’s just that I noticed it this year when I haven’t before. Google N-Grams tells me that I may be imagining things, or just had a fluke in my social media sphere, because they’re both growing at the same rate they always have and Chinese New Year (case insensitive) wins by a huge margin, but I figured I’d ask.

  • Both because of Jews being well known and integrated into the American consciousness, and because Easter is computed in relation to Passover which is in turn 15 Nisan on the lunisolar Hebrew calendar.

I’ve noticed the same thing. I actually think the cause might be English speaking Chinese. China actually has a public holiday on January 1st, as well as one celebrating the lunar new year, so if they’re talking in English, the term “New Years” is ambiguous. So they go with “Lunar New Year” to distinguish them. My WAG is this practice has been leaking over to native English speakers as well.

Anyhoo, in the US the Jewish lunar new-year is pretty universally “Rosh Hashanah”, and the Muslim one “Al Hijra”, so there’s little risk of confusion with the East Asian practice.

My own preference is for Lunar over Chinese, and I was surprised recently by how strongly I felt about it when I was tempted to “correct” the notation on someone else’s printed calendar. However this is strictly a personal thing and not motivated by any official push to make the change. FWIW I am not Asian but I live in close proximity to a large Vietnamese-American community (“Little Saigon”) which is the greater cultural influence in my case.

Right, China officially uses the Gregorian Calendar, so disambiguating makes sense. Though I believe in China they generally refer to the Lunar New Year as “Spring Festival”, no? At the least something like “Spring New Year” seems like it’d make more sense given that terminology, but I guess it doesn’t evoke quite the same grand feeling as “Lunar” and Spring doesn’t start for another month and a half anyway.

You are probably right, but are suffering from observation bias. I’ve heard it referred to as the “Lunar New Year” for many years now (in Northern California). Perhaps you are just noticing it now.

So many other Asian nations celebrate New Year’s at the same time, that calling it ‘Chinese’ New Year, just seems wrong.

I think that’s why.

Thailand celebrates no less than four (4) New Year’s! In addition to the Chinese lunar new year (new moon in usu. February) and the Western New Year (January 1), they celebrate traditional Tai lunar new year (November full moon) and a sidereal new year (rising of constellation Aries in mid April). The mid-April “Songkran” celebration is biggest by far, though I’ve only heard it called “New Year” in the North.

I think the OP answered his own question. When I was a kid, the assumption was that every Asian celebrating the new year at this time was Chinese. Today, there are large populations of many Asian groups in America. “Lunar New Year” acknowledges that celebrants could easily be Vietnamese or…


Tet is another name for the holiday. But it has another meaning for those of a certain age…

I agree that it’s probably just greater exposure to Asia. “Chinese New Year” is kind of like calling Jan 1st “American New Year”. It’s not entirely wrong, but it leaves a lot out.

In China, you mostly hear “Spring Festival”, which is probably too vague to use here.

For those who claim the Lunar new year is not particularly close to Spring and wonder why the Chinese refer to it as Spring Festival, I take it that the division of the seasons in East Asia is not quite the same as it is in the west with our very rigid astronomical definitions. As a comparison, the sumo tournaments in Japan named after seasons are:

March - Spring
May - Summer
September - Autumn

To westerners, the first two are completely wrong, while the last one is at least partially wrong since the tournament always starts in the western astronomical summer. My reasoning after learning of these names is simply that the seasons are divided differently over there. The absolute worst cold weather is in January, while February tends to be as bad as December and March as November. The new moon in February will generally be coming at a time when the weather is tending to improve rather than worsen (compare Groundhog Day), and so their culture thinks of it as the start of Spring, while westerners now go by the equinox.

Also, I seem to recall “May Day” being a previously-used date as the start of summer in some western cultures, presumably for similar reasons. Our notion of the seasons now is very heavily influenced by deciding that they start on the equinoctes (to use the Latin plural) and solstices instead of those being in the middle of the seasons.

Yes, an offensive one. :smiley:

I’ve heard Lunar New Year used as an explanation for the Chinese New Year for a long time, in other words it’s not just some random day chosen by the Chinese.

Granted that there are a bunch of other nations in Asia that celebrate it, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong to call the event “Chinese”. Many aspects of Asian culture have been dominated by China. One might also say, for instance, that many different nations use Chinese characters for writing.

I have the opposite observation from the OP. For years I heard it referred to as Lunar new Year and in the past few years it is being called Chinese New Year.

It’s not wrong, but in some contexts it can be an odd way to put it. Our Christmas celebrations are heavily influenced by Europe, but we don’t really think of it as “Euro Christmas.” It’s be accurate to call it that, but it doesn’t really capture the way we think of it.

Yes, traditional medieval seasons began on the so called “crossquarter days” - Imbolc, Beltane, Laugnasahd and Samhain:

In a way, it would be tidier. While staying close to the crossquarter days, we could make the starts of February, May, August and November mark the seasons. With Groundhog Day being very close to the start of Spring, and Halloween the evening of the start of Winter.

Note, however, that you may find that it makes more sense to have a seasonal “festival” or celebration on the solstice or equinox at the height of the season rather than its beginning. Why have a “Spring Festival” in the first week of February, when it might still be freezing out there, and the trees are still bare? Give a chance for March to do its “In like a lion, out like a lamb” thing, and hold it on the equinox.

Depends on what you mean by “Westerners”. As a kid, I always considered seasons to start on month boundaries. Dec-Feb is winter, Mar-May spring, Jun-Aug summer and Sep-Nov fall. And it turns out that a lot of countries follow the same system, including Mexico and the UK.

So only the May - Summer sumo tournament seems slightly wrong to me, and if it’s in later May, I could easily call it summer. It never made sense to me that the solstices and equinoxes mark the beginning of a season rather than falling somewhere in the middle.

Which westerners? I live in Finland and like to think of myself as a westerner but here the seasons are not based on dates but mostly on weather. If average temperature is below 0 C, it’s winter. If it is between 0 C and 10 C, it’s either spring or autumn and if it is above 10 C it is summer. I understand that sort of definition only works for our climate but just wanted to say “westerns now going by the equinox” is certainly not universal.

I really think that it is only the US thats think the seasons begin on the solstices and equinoxes. Cecil did a column on it.