Lunar New Year Celebrations & Chunyun (the world’s largest annual human migration)




By Jill Lowe




          Celebrated in several Asian countries, the New Year or Spring Festival in 2024 will mark the  end of the Year of the Rabbit and the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, being driven by the  Zodiac chart. It falls on different dates each year, based on lunar phases, solstices and equinoxes.  Three overarching themes of Lunar New Year are “fortune, happiness and health”   Traditionally New Year celebration, dating back 3500 years, was a time to honor deities as well as  ancestors, today is focussed on the family reunions.


          Thus, at the holiday time many millions of Chinese nationals travel to family (some statistics  cite 2.1 billion domestic journeys, with some predictions for 2024 to be 6 billion visits). Very often  workers in large cities return to their primary families where grandparents have been raising their  children for the previous year. This migration or spring travel rush is known as chunyun. 






The 12 zodiac signs of animals  

have lucky meanings. Each  

zodiac sign is rotated so that  

each animal comes around  

every twelve years. 





          Many customs are observed in the Lunar New Year, some having been observed for thousands  of years. Look for a fuller list of customs here. Some popular customs are:-  


          Spring Festival Couplets which can be traced back over 1000 years. The couplets are painted  with calligraphy on paper, and typically pasted on doorways to include two vertical scrolls two sides  of the door and a horizontal scroll on the top.


Spring festival Couplets          Photo courtesy Elizabeth Jia


          Pasting the “Fu” character meaning good fortune or happiness. This custom involves  pasting the “fu” on a gate or door during Lunar New Year.

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Jia


The custom of giving of Red Envelopes is extremely prevalent and popular. The  lucky money” is usually given after a reunion dinner and amount of money contained is  ever increasing.



          Decorating with lanterns and paper cut designs using auspicious words or patterns, is a  custom for decorating inside the house and out.


Photo courtesy Elizabeth Jia


Paper cut design for Year of the Dragon


          Meet Elizabeth Jia, so accomplished in calligraphy, painting, dressmaking, flower arranging,  graphic design and cooking. (Likely these are the activities Elizabeth accomplished before lunch, so  prolific are her skills.)  


          Elizabeth, a Chinese national came to Chicago in 2010. She is a member of the ”Chinese  Calligraphers and Painters Federation” a national level organization. She is Vice President of the  “US-China Culture and Art Center” in Chicago.  


          Sharing with me some of her childhood customs for Lunar New Year, you can get a glimpse  into the rich traditions associated with this spring festival, as well as Elizabeths’s extraordinary,  extensive skills and style. 


Elizabeth R Jia




Food is central to New Year Celebrations and fish and dumplings are central to the menu.


Elizabeth’s Lunar New Year Menu from a previous year:


Year of the Rabbit Menu from 2023


Elizabeth talked to me about some of the foods she will cook for the Lunar New Year and explained how she makes her dumplings.



          For the Dumplings, being so important in New Year menus, Elizabeth uses special colorings  ordered from China, to form “Monet” like dumplings for the special New Year’s menu.


Restaurants often offer dumpling making classes.


Luna Lu Restaurant in Sydney offers dumpling making classes.


The Golden Garlic symbolizes wealth and opportunity.


There are 14 main days for celebrating Lunar New Year and red and gold are the colors worn.
Here below is a selection of outfits Elizabeth will wear for the Year of the Dragon.





…and another outfit for the celebration



          Decorating with New Year Flowers is a popular custom. One such flower, grown in water, the Water Fairy Flower – “Narcissus tazetta subsp. chinensis (M.Roem.) Masamura & Yanagih” has  been in China for over a thousand years, and was grown by Elizabeth’s family when she was a child.


          I was grateful for Elizabeth’s generosity on sharing with me some special aspects of Lunar New Year.


          At the end of the Lunar New Year Celebrations is a Lantern Festival. Taking many forms in  different Asian countries, and weather dependent, some lanterns are lit and sent to the sky.



Lunar New Year merchandise may still be available.

Paspaley Year of The Dragon Dive Charm with a 20mm pearl



Chicago celebrates Lunar New Year 2024


The parade will begin at 1:00 pm at the intersection of 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue, and  travel north on Wentworth towards the viewing stand at Cermak and Wentworth.



          As part of the annual rhythm of Chicago, the Lunar New Year Celebrations include private  gatherings and as well as the parades, rituals and traditions : sometimes dumpling making classes at  Asian restaurants in Chicago are offered. There will special menus at Chinese restaurants.  




Notes, Links, further reading  

Photo of Jill : Joe Mazza Bravelux inc.  

Photos copyright © 2024 Jill Lowe. All rights reserved  

Images with Shutterstock license  


Choose Chicago 

Chicago Chinatown Community Foundation 

Chinese New Year celebrations 


Paspaley Pearls