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The Year of the Tiger: How Lunar New Year could become a federal holiday

A bill before Congress would make Lunar New Year the 12th federally recognized holiday in the US.

Lunar New Year 2022: Year of the Tiger
A Chinese New Year Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Tiger.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Lunar New Year could become a federal holiday in the US, and Rep. Grace Meng is hoping to make it happen. Meng, a Democrat from Queens, New York, has sponsored a bill that would make the day -- celebrated in China, Vietnam, Tibet, Korea and in Asian diaspora communities worldwide -- the 12th federally recognized holiday and the first since President Joe Biden signed a bill recognizing Juneteenth in June 2021.

The Lunar New Year -- also known as the Chinese New Year and, in China, as the Spring Festival -- was rung in this year on Feb. 1, but festivities go on for more than two weeks, with feasts, family reunions, street parades and visits to shrines. 

This week's celebration marked the end of the Year of the Ox and the start of the Year of the Tiger.

Meng's bill, which has 44 co-sponsors, comes at a time when violence against Asians is on the rise in America: According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes in major cities shot up 339% in 2021 from 2020, when they had already increased 124% from the year prior.

"With Asian Americans being the fastest growing population in our country, and with the popularity of the holiday continuing to grow, it makes sense to make Lunar New Year a federal holiday," Meng said in a statement. Federal recognition, she added, "would demonstrate that the holiday celebrated by millions is also valued by their government."

Here's everything you need to know about the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Tiger and how the holiday could receive federal recognition. For more, here's what you need to know about New Year's celebrations around the world and the Winter Olympics starting this week in Beijing.

Read more: Google Doodle welcomes Year of the Tiger 2022

What is the Lunar New Year?

More than just the beginning of a new calendar year, the Lunar New Year is seen as a time of reunion and rebirth, marking the end of winter and the start of spring.

According to one legend, a monster would emerge from under the Earth at the start of every year and eat villagers. Since the monster, called Nian (Chinese for "year") was afraid of bright lights, loud noises and the color red, they were used to exile the beast -- and have all become associated with the holiday.

When is Lunar New Year 2022?

Many Asian cultures historically follow a lunar, rather than solar, calendar, so the Lunar New Year falls on a different day on the Gregorian calendar every year: In 2022, Lunar New Year's Eve fell on Jan. 31, and the Year of the Tiger began Tuesday, Feb. 1.

Celebrations often start the weekend before, though, and continue for weeks after. Only the first seven days, Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, are considered public holidays.

The third day of Lunar New Year is known as Chi Kou Ri, or "Day of the Red Mouth." Falling on Feb. 3 this year, it's believed arguments are more likely on this day, so people tend to avoid social interactions and stay home or visit temples instead.

The Lantern Festival, a Chinese tradition celebrated on the first full moon of the year, marks the end of the New Year season. It occurs on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar -- this year, it lands on Feb. 15.

Year of the Tiger

Tourists watch a Lunar New Year light installation featuring the tiger, the Chinese zodiac animal for the new lunar year, in Shanghai, China. 

VCG/Getty

Which Chinese Zodiac animal is honored this year?

The Chinese calendar is on a 12-year cycle, with each year linked to a different animal -- the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

The year 2022 in the Gregorian calendar is designated the Year of the Tiger.

"In Chinese culture, the tiger is the symbol of bravery, wisdom and strength. But interestingly, the tiger is not mentioned in the Bible, while the lion, a Western astrological sign, is absent from the Chinese zodiac," Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang said in a statement. "Different places and peoples have different cultures. This is only natural, but such differences should not prevent us from understanding, respecting and appreciating each other's history, culture and tradition."

The last Year of the Tiger was in 2010.

What are the personality traits of people born in the Year of the Tiger?

In Asian cultures, the tiger -- not the lion -- is the king of the jungle: People born during a Tiger Year are thought to be natural leaders who are both brave and thrill-seeking, often craving attention.

"They are courageous and energetic, love a challenge or competition and are prepared to take risks," according to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. "They can also be rebellious, short-tempered and outspoken, preferring to give orders rather than take them, which often leads to conflict."

In the past century, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998 and 2010 were all Tiger years.

Famous people born in Years of the Tiger include Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Shawn Mendes, Lady Gaga and Tom Cruise.

How do people celebrate Lunar New Year?

Various Asian cultures have their own distinct ways of ringing in the new year: In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is called Tết, and is celebrated with bánh chung (sticky rice cakes), bushels of yellow ochna flowers and visits to friends, relatives and neighbors. In Malaysia, celebrants enjoy yeesang, a dish of raw fish and shredded vegetables.

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The arrival of Lunar New Year in Chinese communities is often celebrated with dragon parades. 

Kent German/CNET

Americans are usually most familiar with Chinese celebrations, where the arrival of the new year is cause for large public celebrations, with dragon parades, boat races and fireworks and firecrackers to ward off bad luck. 

Red and gold symbolize good fortune on the Lunar New Year, with many people wearing red and children often getting red envelopes stuffed with money.

The Lantern Festival symbolizes the end of the New Year season and is marked by the flying of paper lanterns and eating of turnip cakes and tangyuan, a Chinese dessert of sweet rice-ball dumplings.

Lunar New Year celebration

Members of a family toast during a Lunar New Year's Eve dinner in Beijing, China. 

China Photos/Getty Images

Many families will hold feasts, perform a thorough cleaning of their homes and honor deceased relatives.

As it did last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more subdued celebrations: The Chinese Embassy in Washington held a virtual celebration on Sunday, with remarks by former US President Jimmy Carter; an exhibition of Chinese lanterns and a light show at the Kennedy Center; acrobatics and winter sports demonstrations; and a reunion of giant pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

How would Lunar New Year become a federally recognized holiday?

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) speaks during an event of constituents in October 2021.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) addresses constituents in Forest Hills, Queens, in October 2021.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network

The authority to establish federal holidays lies with Congress. Rep. Meng is one of more than 40 sponsors of the Lunar New Year Day Act, which was introduced in the House on Jan. 28, alongside a resolution "recognizing the cultural and historical significance of Lunar New Year in 2022."

If the bill is brought before the House for a vote, it would only need a simple majority (218 out of 435) to pass. It would then have to pass the Senate. The Washington Post notes that while Meng's bill hasn't faced any pushback yet, it's still in the early stages and its prospects are unclear.

On federal holidays, nonessential federal offices and many banks and schools are closed. Each individual state, however, decides whether or not to legally observe any given holiday: Arizona, for example, did not formally recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday until a voter referendum in 1992.

Because the Lunar New Year is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and falls on a different day in late January or early February each year, the bill doesn't specify a day for the holiday to be recognized.

Lunar New Year is already recognized in public schools in New York; Montgomery County, Maryland; and Iowa City, Iowa, according to the Post.