Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chinese New Year and Not Lunar New Year

In Malaysia, the Spring Festival (春节) is known as Chinese New Year. This is correct. However there is a growing number of Malaysians calling the Chinese New Year solely as the Lunar New Year. I will soon explain why this is incorrect culturally and terminologically.

First all varieties of calendars can be categorised as solar, lunar and lunisolar calendars.

Solar calendars are calendars that annotate with dates pertaining to the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. They have months that only approximate the moon’s cycle which means the moon does not factor in at all. Examples: Gregorian calendar (the one everyone is using)

Pure Lunar calendars on the other hand based its months precisely on the moon’s cycle. An actual year in a pure lunar calendar is eleven days short of an Earth Year. The famous example is the Islamic calendar where they don’t even bother to sync with the solar year.

Most calendars are in fact Lunisolar. Months reflect the lunar cycle but a leap month is added to synchronise with the solar year. Since the moon cycle really only affects the tides and werewolves, people have less need to know about the moon cycle than say the solar cycle which marks when the seasons like joyous spring and dreadful winter will arrive. The Chinese Lunar calendar is one of many examples, but today it is used more to calculate holidays, festivals and fengshui.

In the Malaysian context, there are other lunar calendars like the Islamic calendar and Tamil (and other Indian subcontinent) calendars. It would be unfair to refer to the Chinese New Year as the Lunar New Year because it may cause ambiguity as to which calendar you are actually referring to. Unless you’re speaking in Chinese which would then make sense. Otherwise just stick to Chinese New Year.

Happy Chinese New Year.

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