Year of the Rabbit: Chinese and Lunar New Year explained

Year of the Rabbit Chinese New Year

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted January 13, 2023

This January, you will hear celebrations of Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, and the Year of the Rabbit. But what does it all mean? Here's everything you need to know, and how to celebrate.

While many of us celebrated the New Year on December 31st, for many members of our multicultural community, Lunar New Year is the time to celebrate what the next 12 months will have in store. 

Celebrated by an estimated 2 billion people worldwide, Lunar New Year (January 22, in 2023) is a time to celebrate the lunar calendar through food, rituals, traditions, and celebrations.

But what is Lunar New Year all about? And what does the Year of the Rabbit (or for Vietnamese communities, the Year of the Cat) have in store for 2023?  


Why do people celebrate Chinese and Lunar New Year? 

What is the Lunar New Year?

Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year in other cultures, celebrates the second ‘new moon’ on the lunar calendar (also known as a lunisolar calendar). In the northern hemisphere, it also marks the start of spring, a time to reunite with family and the time to wish for luck, wealth, and prosperity for the year ahead.  

When is Lunar New Year?

Whilst the date fluctuates depending on the lunisolar calendar, it generally falls in late January to early February. In 2023, the Lunar New Year starts on January 22nd.

What is the difference between Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year?

While they can be used interchangeably amongst some groups, there is a distinction. The Lunar New Year is celebrated on different dates by a variety of cultures. 

Chinese New Year, while celebrating the same event, is the term used most commonly within China. In other countries that celebrate, the term ‘Lunar New Year’ is more widely used. 

Chinese New Year meal

Family get together to celebrate and have foods to symbolise luck, wealth and prosperity. Image: Getty. 


Who celebrates Chinese and Lunar New Year?

Chinese New Year is celebrated in China, where it is a public holiday and one of the biggest celebrations of the year. 

It is also celebrated as Lunar New Year in Asian countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, South Korea, and across parts of southeast Asia.

Many people with Asian heritage also partake in the festivities, as it is also celebrated in many Western cities, including Melbourne.  

How long do Chinese and Lunar New Year celebrations go for?

Chinese and Lunar New Year generally goes for 15 days – from Lunar New Year’s Eve to the following Lantern Festival (the next full moon).

This year, the Lunar New Year Lantern Festival will start on January 22nd 2023, where those celebrating adorn the streets with colourful lanterns to symbolise reuniting with family and the end of the Lunar New Year festivities.

What are the superstitions associated with luck and good fortune for Chinese and Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is a time to look towards a new year and good fortune. There are plenty of superstitions around this time, too.

In preparation, people may look to ‘sweep out’ misfortune from the home out of the old year and hang up poems on red paper (couplets) for good luck and prosperity.

On Lunar New Year, it is widely believed not to do any washing of or sweeping on the New Year to avoid ‘washing’ good fortune away, to avoid unlucky words like ‘illness’ or outward crying, and to avoid colours associated with mourning such as black and white.

Door Gods, or mén shén, are hung up in entranceways facing each other to ward off evil spirits.

Why is the colour red used so much?

Many red emblems are also seen on envelopes, clothing, lanterns and decorations. Known as a lucky colour, red is seen to symbolise happiness, prosperity, luck and good fortune. 


Chinese New Year dragon in Melbourne

Dragon dances take place across Melbourne to ward off evil spirits during Chinese and Lunar New Year. Image: Getty. 


What is the Chinese Zodiac?

The lunisolar calendar follows a 12-year cycle that is represented by the Chinese Zodiac, each with its own animal. The Zodiac assigns animal signs based on birth year, which they attribute with personal attributes and premonitions for the new year. The year 2023 falls to the Year of the Rabbit.

The origin story in Chinese folklore goes back to an Emperor who wants 12 animal guards, who raced for the highest order. This was won by a rat (first year). We are now in the fourth animal phase on the Zodiac calendar – the rabbit.

While the Zodiac animals are mostly the same across all cultures that celebrate the holiday, there is one notable difference: in Vietnamese tradition, the fourth animal is the cat, not the rabbit. That means 2023 is both the Year of the Rabbit and the Year of the Cat. 

What does Year of the Rabbit mean?

According to the Chinese Zodiac, those born in the Year of the Rabbit are seen as gentle, optimistic, approachable, elegant, and noble. 

In Chinese culture, rabbits represent hope, tenderness, and long life. There are also certain signs of ‘luck’ for those born in the Year of the Rabbit: 

  • Lucky numbers: 3, 4 and 9.
  • Lucky colours: red, pink, purple and blue.
  • It is associated with those born in the following years: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011 and 2023. 

Vietnamese culture describes people born in the Year of the Cat as clever, confident, driven and flexible in their ways of thinking. 

How do people celebrate Chinese and Lunar New Year?

Traditionally, those who celebrate have a large family meal on Lunar New Year’s Eve, and then enjoy the festivities for the following 15 days. People celebrating may incorporate symbolic traditions, such as eating fish, which is associated with wealth, or noodles as a wish for ‘longevity.’

People may also give red envelopes with money inside (hóngbāo) to others for good wishes, set off fireworks and dragon dances to ward off evil spirits (Nian, the monster afraid of red), offer sacrifices to ancestors for protection, reunite with family and enjoy the festivities.

Different countries have separate traditions. For example, in China and Vietnam, the event correlates with the start of spring, so many floral arrangements adorn houses, streets, and venues.

In South Korea, decorative bird decorations like paper cranes are also hung up for longevity and good fortune. While in Tibet, children bring gifts to their elders, and in Mongolia, a pastry tower is made to represent Mount Sumeru - a holy mountain. 


Young girl gets ready for Chinese New Year.

Practising Chinese calligraphy for Chinese New Year Fai Chun (Auspicious Messages) is a part of the festivities. Image: Getty. 


What’s on for the Lunar and Chinese New Year in Melbourne in 2023?

For the Year of the Rabbit, the city will celebrate with a range of festivities, meals and entertainment  around Chinatown in the Melbourne CBD and wider Melbourne, including: 

  • The 2023 Lunar New Year Festival across Southbank in Melbourne’s CBD, featuring food, performances, and entertainment over the 20th and 21st of January. This will also continue in the Crown Entertainment Complex. 
  • Lunar New Year at the NGV, which celebrates the Year of the Rabbit with a host of art and craft activities, performances, and food. It will also be celebrated at Melbourne Museum and with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
  • The 2023 Golden Age New Year Festival in Box Hill in Melbourne’s East, featuring decorations, activities, food and performances on 28th January. 
  • The St Albans Lunar Festival will feature food, entertainment, rides and fireworks on 15th January. 
  • The Docklands will host its annual Chinese New Year Dragon Boat Festival, while areas across Richmond, Springvale, Point Cook and Glen Waverley will also ring in the Lunar New Year with Chinese dancers, music, food, firecrackers and more. 
  • Expect the city’s Chinatown and Chinese Museum to also be raging with a range of spectacular eateries, festivities, and performances. 

Looking forward to getting out and about in Melbourne?
RACV Members save more on city attractions and getaways →