Lunar New Year 2023 launches the Year of the Rabbit

Rabbit figurines commemorating the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit 2023.
Rabbit figurines commemorating the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit 2023. (Image credit: Wokephoto17/Getty Images)

Happy New Year!

Lunar New Year, that is. In many parts of the world, today (Jan. 22) marks the start of a new year. Lunar New Year is celebrated widely throughout East Asia and marks the beginning of spring and the start of a new lunar cycle. The holiday typically falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. For that reason, the date changes year to year compared to the fixed holidays of the Gregorian calendar, but it always falls in January or February. 

This year, Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese zodiac, which assigns different animals to years over a 12-year cycle. According to ChineseNewYear.net (opens in new tab), the rabbit is associated with the moon in Chinese culture, perhaps because the shadows of the moon were once thought to represent a rabbit. China's Yutu-2 rover, the longest-running lunar rover in history, gets its name from the Chinese characters for "jade rabbit."

Related: What is the moon phase today? Lunar phases 2023

While the Western zodiac is based on constellations, the 12 animals that make up the Chinese zodiac do not correspond to groupings of stars. They instead originate from the animals found in the "Heavenly Gate Race (opens in new tab)" from ancient Chinese folklore and are assigned to 12 divisions of the (roughly) 12-year orbit (opens in new tab) of Jupiter

The origins of Lunar New Year aren't well known, as it is believed to date back to prehistory, according to TimeAndDate.com (opens in new tab). The date of Lunar New Year is set according to the Chinese calendar, which is based on the changing position of the sun in the sky and the phases of the moon

Most years in this calendar system, known as a lunisolar calendar, are between 353 and 355 days long. (Leap years have between 383 and 385 days.) China uses the Gregorian calendar for most civil and governmental purposes, while the traditional Chinese calendar is used for holidays and festival dates.

The first lunisolar calendars in China were established during the Zhou dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC). During this period, the beginning of the new year was set as the day of the last new moon that occurred prior to the winter solstice. As various dynasties rose and fell throughout Chinese history, the calendar was revised and rewritten until it evolved into the Chinese calendar we know today during the late Ming dynasty (opens in new tab) in the 17th century.

Today, Lunar New Year is celebrated worldwide with a variety of traditions. In China, families typically gather together for a 16-day celebration full of feasting, fireworks and gift-giving. Traditional gifts include hongbao, or "red envelopes," which are typically stuffed with cash.

The holiday also sees the largest annual human migration (opens in new tab) on Earth, during which billions of people worldwide travel to their ancestral homes to celebrate with family. 

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Brett Tingley
Editor, Space.com

Brett is a science and technology journalist who is curious about emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett's work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery, and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett is a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, an avid LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and two children. 

  • rod
    "Most years in this calendar system, known as a lunisolar calendar, are between 353 and 355 days long. (Leap years have between 383 and 385 days.) China uses the Gregorian calendar for most civil and governmental purposes, while the traditional Chinese calendar is used for holidays and festival dates. The first lunisolar calendars in China were established during the Zhou dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC). During this period, the beginning of the new year was set as the day of the last new moon that occurred prior to the winter solstice. As various dynasties rose and fell throughout Chinese history, the calendar was revised and rewritten until it evolved into the Chinese calendar we know today during the late Ming dynasty(opens in new tab) in the 17th century."

    That is interesting about China. The ancient Babylonians celebrated Aiktu, the Babylonian New Year and brought out the 7 tablets of creation, celebrating Marduk defeat of Tiamut and the creation of the universe. Mesopotamian texts show festival and New Year celebrations too.

    "c. Festivals Most cities and temples had their own distinctive festivals and sacred days. At Babylon, Erech and Ur, as at Assur, Nineveh and Calah, the New Year Festival (akitu) was the most outstanding, held in the spring, but not exclusively, and with varying practices at different centres and periods. At Babylon the ceremonies lasted 2 weeks with numerous rites including a procession of gods to Marduk’s temple."
    Reply
  • rod
    'The ancient Babylonians celebrated Aiktu, the Babylonian New Year'

    My bad :) Akitu is correct spelling. "The Babylonian Akitu does exemplify a cosmogonic New Year’s festival: through its rites, the Esagila temple, and hence the world, are symbolically razed, purified, and re-created; kingship, and hence cosmic order, are abolished and renewed. Thus the Akitu festival also effects a return to the time of creation, which culminated in the enthronement of Marduk and the construction by the gods of Marduk’s temple in Babylon, the Esagila. The Akitu is thus a testimony to the centrality of the temple and the rest of the deity in the temple, and the rest of the deity symbolizes that the order initially established in the cosmos by the deity is regularly renewed and constantly maintained."
    Reply
  • rod
    I find it interesting to compare about China new year and calendar with Mesopotamian and Ancient Near East sources known today in archeology.
    Reply
  • Saracen1955
    Admin said:
    Lunar New Year 2023 is celebrated this year on Sunday (Jan. 22) as the new lunar cycle turns over into the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac.

    Lunar New Year 2023 launches the Year of the Rabbit : Read more
    In the interest of completeness, this is also the Year of The Cat. No, not Al Stewart song. In Vietnam, the Celestial calendar does not include a Rabbit, thus today marks the first day of the Year of The Cat.
    Reply
  • Saracen1955
    And as I said, Lunar New Year 2023 is celebrated this year on Sunday Jan 22 as the Year of The Cat, in Vietnam, because they do not include a rat in their zodiac

    https://www.asiahighlights.com/vietnam/new-year/date
    Reply
  • OKBoomer63
    I was born under the rabbit on December 21, 1963 and thrilled The Rabbit is the animal for 2023!
    Reply