Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is a multicultural celebration celebrated in East and South East Asian countries. gLoBaL ERG members Ziad Bousaleh and Li Lei, and API ERG members Larry Li Guo, Que-Anh Le, and Sarah McGinn shared more about this celebration.

API ERG and gLoBaL ERG are collaborating for a Lunar Celebrations event at 3pm PT on Wednesday, February 9th. We welcome all members of the Berkeley Lab community join us to learn about worldwide Lunar New Year traditions, find out more about zodiac signs, and participate in a fun trivia (with prizes!).

What is lunar new year?

Fireworks for Lunar New Year in Beijing (Image source: That's Beijing)

Li: “Lunar” originated from the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar (normally called “Agricultural Calendar”). The traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar is a hybrid timekeeping method that takes into account both the moon’s orbit around the earth and the earth’s 365-day orbit around the sun. The Lunar New Year is the first day of the new year cycle according to the Agricultural Calendar and is celebrated for about two weeks.

Ziad: I belong to the Levantine heritage. Lunar New Year celebrations were extremely uncommon while growing up in Dubai back in the late 80s and early 90s. I learned more about Lunar New Year celebrations after moving to North America, where I had the chance to experience the wonderful celebrations of this annual festival. Lunar New Year is considered the most important festival in China and many other East Asian countries. The festival signals the beginning of spring and symbolizes a new start, fresh hopes and welcoming good luck and prosperity of the new year.

Why do people celebrate Lunar New Year?

Li: According to ancient Chinese folk legends, there once lived a ferocious monster named Nian (年兽) in the ocean. But it would come ashore to terrorize people at the end of the Lunar Year, destroying their property and eating their livestock or children. Then people figured out that they could scare away Nian by decorating their homes in red, lighting candles, and setting off firecrackers. So New Year’s Day in China is also known as “Guo Nian,” which means, “surviving Nian’s attack.”

Since then, people will celebrate their triumph over Nian and stay up all night to welcome the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year is the grandest festival in China and the longest public holiday, celebrated for more than half a month. According to the oldest traditions, people follow a day-by-day schedule of Chinese New Year festivities from the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month (Jan. 25, 2022 this year), with specific things to do on certain days.

The 15th day of the 1st lunar month (Feb. 15, 2022 this year), also referred to as the Lantern Festival, is the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. It is also the first full moon day after the grand event. On this day, people will enjoy different shapes of lanterns and guess lantern riddles. Everything goes back to normal after that day.

How do people usually celebrate?

What are some traditions that you follow?

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Li: Traditionally, each day of this long holiday has its specific activities. On their doors, people usually paste Spring Festival Couplets and Door Gods Pictures. They’ll enjoy the Family Reunion Dinner, eat dumplings, set off firecrackers and fireworks, and give lucky red envelopes to children. Other activities include walking on stilts, and performing the lion and dragon dances. You can find more activities here.

We also celebrate Lunar New Year in the US with friends and family, colleagues, and/or a local Chinese community. For example, last year, Chinese employees at the JGI hosted a virtual party for the Lantern Festival. We played the traditional Chinese riddle game. We also virtually showed how to make and cook sticky rice balls (known as Tangyuan or Yuanxiao) from scratch.

More fun videos about the celebration of the Lunar New Year can be found here and there. If you are interested in watching/attending some celebrations in the Bay Area, please check here.

Que-Anh: One of my favorite superstitions (if that's a good way to describe it), is predicting the type of "customer" that you'll meet in the new year.

My Grandfather Phung was a businessman. He owned a leather goods wholesale shop and a small hotel, and the tradition was that the first person you encounter in the new year was the sort of person you'd encounter for the rest of the year at your business. So, you'd hope for an especially generous or at least kindhearted person to walk through your door that morning! When I was younger, this was so much fun to talk about since some of his old business associates were also in America and they'd reminisce about favorite (infamous) customers.

Find an illustrated guide to Tet superstitions from Oi Magazine

This superstition is taken so seriously by some folks that people actively avoid visiting each other in the new year in case they would later be blamed for the bad fortunes of the business. My Grandmother Phung (Ann) figured out a workaround for the system and "hired" a person she considered to be a bearer of good luck to visit the home. She didn't actually pay them but promised a nice lunch or something similar.

How does this superstition translate nowadays, since everyone lives farther and farther away? My family has jokingly adapted the tradition to mean that any person who texts or calls on the phone is the person who brings in the fortunes of the year. This year, my Mom visited us in our new home so she brought a card with wishes for a good new year (just in case).

Image credit: Travel China Guide

Sarah: My family has a standing tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year by going out for a nice dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Over the years the group of attendees has shifted as people have moved out of state, but my mom and I have both managed to uphold the tradition each year. Some years my cousins and aunts have joined us, some years we have gone with friends, and some years it's just been my mom and I. This year we are fortunate to have my youngest brother in town from South Korea and we are excited to celebrate with him, as well as my dad and boyfriend. Good food and great company is always a wonderful recipe for a very happy new year!

Ziad: Every year I enjoy the wonderful festivities, traditions and customs of the Lunar New Year celebration such as the firecrackers, fireworks and the lion and dragon dances. Of course, let's not forget about the delicious traditional food, like rice dumplings, sesame seed balls, spring rolls, and of course Nian Gao. I like how this festival provides a great opportunity for family gatherings and reunions.

When I moved to California last year, I was looking forward to the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade. While the iconic festival was paused last year due to the pandemic, it will be returning this year. The festival offers a great opportunity to enjoy the great festivities and immerse yourself in a dazzling cultural experience, as well as learn more about the rich Asian heritage. More information about the festival can be found here.

A scene from the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade in 2019 (Image source:


Larry li Guo

Year of the Tiger 2022 starts from February 1st, 2022, and ends on January 21st, 2023. It is a Water Tiger year. Years of the Tiger include 2022, 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938 …. Tigers will encounter their 'birth sign year' (本命年) in 2022. Wearing red will bring good luck in a birth sign year.

The Tiger is known as the king of all beasts in China. The zodiac sign Tiger is a symbol of strength, exorcizing evils, and braveness. Many Chinese kids wear hats or shoes with a tiger image for good luck. People born in a year of the Tiger are brave, competitive, unpredictable, and confident. They are very charming and well-liked by others. But sometimes they are likely to be impetuous, irritable, and overindulgent.

The Tiger ranks third among the animals of the Chinese zodiac. The 12 zodiac animals are, in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle.

Love: 2022 is a good year for Tigers to get married. Single Tigers will have a big chance to find a boyfriend/girlfriend. Tigers at the age of 24 or 36 need to pay more attention to managing relationships as their luck in love will fluctuate in 2022.

Career: Tigers will have opportunities to get promoted in 2022. After working hard for many years, Tigers will finally get approval from their leaders. Tigers, don't be too high-profile, otherwise you may incur trouble and jealousy from petty colleagues.

Wealth: Tigers should be careful of entering into monetary relationships with others in 2022. Don't expect a big windfall or massive achievement. Reasonably spending their money will help Tigers to go through 2022 smoothly. In their birth sign year, Tigers are not suggested to invest much in stocks or funds.

2022, a year of the Tiger, is a good year to give birth to a baby if you are looking for its particular auspicious symbols (strength, exorcising evils, and braveness). A Tiger year is the fifth most coveted Zodiac year. A baby born in the year of 2022 will be a Water Tiger. They’re smart, humorous, and good at socializing. They usually have good luck in making money and have a strong ability to adapt to new things.

Tigers usually enjoy good health. Small illnesses, such as colds, coughs, and fever, are rarely experienced by Tigers. They are active so they like to do various sports. However, they should avoid excessive strenuous exercise, because some dangerous activities may lead to physical harm. Tigers are energetic and have great enthusiasm at work. When they feel exhausted after working for long hours, they need some relaxation to refresh themselves.

Click here for forecasts for all zodiac signs for 2022!

Thank you to our Contributors!

Ziad Bousaleh is a senior design review/construction safety specialist within the EHS division. He acts as the EHS team lead on several projects providing the required EHS support and participating in design and DOE critical decision reviews, as well as ensuring all EHS requirements are fully integrated into the design and construction phases. He became a member of the gLoBaL ERG to promote diversity and equality among the lab community, celebrate diverse cultures and support the Lab's IDEA mission. Ziad recently started running regularly, and plans to run a marathon in the near future.

Larry Li Guo is a Senior Visa Services Advisor for the International Researchers and Scholars Office. Larry has been supporting HR-related client needs at Berkeley Lab since 1999. He enjoys delivering professional visa consultation and providing critical immigration services to his responsible divisions, employees, and their supervisors and HR partners.

Que-Anh Le is the administrator for the Engineering Division. She has been with the Lab for almost 3 years and has enjoyed being part of the vibrant community on "the hill" (despite having mixed feelings about trekking up and down said hill to various meetings). Currently, she's been helping to expand the impact of administrative work to include social media and public speaking via an electronic media.

Li Lei is a bioinformatics scientist at the Joint Genome Institute and joined Berkeley Lab in 2019. She is mainly interested in using bioinformatics and population genomics approaches to explore the functional mechanisms of the grass model system Brachypodium. Dr. Lei is originally from China, and she grew up with the culture of celebrating Lunar New Year.

Sarah McGinn is a Bay Area native who joined the Lab in August of 2020 as the Division Safety Coordinator for Computing Sciences and IT. She was raised in a culturally diverse household that combined the Chinese traditions of her mother, who was born in Hong Kong, with the European customs of her father, whose family immigrated from Italy.