As the World and Its Moon Turn
by Mary Gottschalk
Based on the Gregorian calendar that has ruled the Western world since 1582, New Year’s Day falls seven days after Christmas.
But for many Asian residents of Iowa, the New Year arrives this year on January 23. That Monday will bring the first new moon in the “lunisolar” calendar, which reflects both the solar year and the monthly phase of the moon.
For those who celebrate a lunar New Year, the ritual goes well beyond a late-night party and a soon-forgotten resolution. For the Chinese, New Year’s rituals can last for two weeks, and the Vietnamese celebrate for a minimum of three days.
In both cultures, the days before the New Year are used to prepare food for the upcoming celebrations, buy new clothes for children, and clean homes to sweep away bad luck. “We don’t do any cleaning on New Year’s Day,” clarifies San Wong, a Chinese American who heads the Iowa Department of Human Resources, “because it might sweep out good fortune.”
Rituals shared by both cultures include giving a red envelope filled with money to children, nieces and nephews, employees, and other younger people in one’s circle, as well as visiting senior family members and graves of deceased relatives. Rules define who does what on which day. Celebrations, whether family affairs or community-wide festivities, involve huge quantities of traditional foods. “It is important,” says Wong, “to have extra food to provide for the future.”