Trivia Tuesday: Lunar New Year is February 12

Are you an Ox?

Warning: My astronomy geek is coming out!

When I was in college, I had to take two sciences. My choices were plant biology and astronomy. If you know me, those probably make sense: I love the natural world. When it comes to astronomy, the moon is my muse. Other people may like to sunbathe, but I would rather sit out under a full moon. As a result, although I (like everyone else) plan my schedule by the sun-based Gregorian calendar, I follow the moon’s phases closely and look forward to the Lunar New Year each year.

Sun and Moon and Calendars, Oh My!

Lunar-based calendars are some of the oldest calendars used by humans since the moon is predictable in her journey through the sky. A cave painting from around 32,000 B.C. shows a crude, yet surprisingly accurate, depiction of the moon’s phases. Below is a photo of the painting and an archaeologist’s diagram of the painting.

The Egyptians appear to have been the first to develop a solar calendar by tracking the changing seasons according to the appearance of the star Sirius in the eastern night sky. This was a logical approach since the Nile’s spring floods occurred at this same time each year.

The problem with either of these calendar systems is that they are not exact. A lunar calendar loses 11 days each year when compared to the earth’s movement around the sun. Consequently, a 13th month would need to be added every three years to keep a lunar calendar on track. Solar calendars lose minutes instead of days, and those of us using the Gregorian calendar are familiar with the 29th day added to February every four years to make up for the discrepancy.

The Lunar New Year

China developed a lunisolar calendar which precisely tracked the sun's longitude and moon’s phases. This resulted in a 12-month year that still required a 13th month to make up for “lost” days. It is from this calendar that we establish the date for the Lunar New Year.

Although here in the United States we typically call the Lunar New Year “Chinese New Year,” many Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year. It occurs sometime between January 10 and February 19 each year. In 2021, it is on February 12 and coincides with the arrival of the February New Moon in Asia.

Just for Fun

According to Chinese astrology, each Lunar New Year ushers in one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs; 2021 is the Year of the Ox. You may be an Ox if you were born in 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, or 2009 – check your birthdate here: the Chinese Zodiac. Any baby born between  February 12, 2021 and January 31, 2022 will be an Ox.

The Lunar New Year is the most important festival in China and lasts for 15 days after the new moon, ending on the full moon. The legal holiday last for 7 days! (Who thinks we need a 7-day long legal holiday here is the U.S.?)  Celebrations include parades, fireworks, family gatherings, gifts of money in red envelopes, paying respect to ancestors, and more. Sadly, the pandemic will severely restrict this year’s celebrations.

Year of the Ox Lunar New Year Project

I decided to honor the Lunar New Year with a simple machine embroidery project. I stitched out a Chinese Zodiac Ox design from Anita Goodesign on inexpensive craft felt and framed it in a basic black frame. Since the design pack contains all 12 of the Chinese Zodiac animals, I can easily stitch out a new design each year and place it in the frame. This design pack also could be used to make flags, totes, or even a perpetual lunar calendar.

According to tradition, red is the color to bring good luck in the new year, but I decided to take a different approach and use two of the lucky colors for the Ox: green and yellow. I think I’ll display the design in my office until next Lunar New Year.

You can get more information about the project, including resizing in Palette11 digitizing software, in my YouTube video.


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