Around the world, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In countries that use lunar calendars to determine festival days (many of which are in Asia and the Middle East), this signals the beginning of the new year and the first stirrings of spring.
There are lots of ways to honor and celebrate various midwinter traditions that are delightful, educational and bring families together.
The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese Lunar New Year traditionally begins at the first new moon after January 21st. Each year is said to be represented by one of 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. This coming year is the Year of the Monkey.
San Francisco is host to the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside Asia and one of the few illuminated nighttime parades in the world. The parade, Feb. 20th this year, dates back to 1860 and features more than 100 groups, including extravagant lion dancers and a 200-foot-long Golden Dragon. San Francisco’s Chinatown offers numerous other free events and activities throughout the two-week New Years celebration, such as lion dance exhibits, and craft activities like making lucky red envelopes, at city libraries.
In New York City, the New York City Chinese New Year Parade and Festival takes place Feb. 14th this year, and winds through the streets of Little Italy and Chinatown. There’s also a Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 10th, with drumming, dancing, and more than 600,000 firecrackers, the noise of which is said to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Read more about the tradition of greeting the new year with noise and how to make your own noisemakers.
In Chicago? Attend the Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade in their vibrant Chinatown and experience marching bands, floats, lion dancers and a dragon dance, on Feb. 14th.
Here are some great photos of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world.
There are many crafts you can make at home to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Try making a paper dragon, Chinese noisemakers, or Monkey paper cutouts, or baking your own fortune cookies. (If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, to see how the pros bake and fold the famous cookies.)
Here are more Chinese New Year crafts and recipes.
The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating tree fruits and nuts. For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the nature around us.
Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat? Consider planting a tree or seeds, or choosing a natural area to steward by weeding or picking up trash. Take a nature walk and observe what you see, or make a homemade bird feeder, so you can help the birds at a point in winter when much of their food supply has diminished.
Here are lots more traditions, blessings and activities to celebrate the New Year of the Trees.
In the U.S., Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a well-known midwinter holiday, in which it is said that a groundhog rises from his underground burrow to predict a long or short winter, based on whether or not he produces a shadow. The holiday has its roots in Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. (The Celtic-Gaelic St. Brigid’s Day, a time of festivals, feasting and parades, which is still celebrated widely in Ireland, is another precursor to Groundhog Day. As is Imbolc, which means “in the belly”, and is associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would give birth in the spring.)
Pennsylvania’s German settlers believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day (causing the groundhog to see his shadow), then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold, producing “six more weeks of winter.” This site explains the science of Groundhog Day and the fact that cloudy weather is actually milder than clear, cold weather. Groundhog Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1886 and featured a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil”, the same name of the groundhog that makes predictions today.
To celebrate Groundhog Day, try making hand shadow puppets, having a friend trace your shadow, or enjoying one of these shadow-themed activities or weather experiments.
Here is a lot more science, lore, activities and fun for Groundhog Day.
Japanese people celebrate Setsubun (Feb. 3rd this year), traditionally the beginning of spring, with a bean-throwing ceremony called Mame-maki. Beans are thrown indoors and then outside, as people shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Out with the devil! In with fortune!”), to drive away the evil spirits, a tradition that is a carry-over from mame-maki’s origins as a New Year’s ritual. Sometimes fathers dress up as the oni (devil). It’s considered good luck to eat the number of beans as your age.
You may want to do some Setsubun crafts.
Enjoy your celebration of midwinter. Hopefully it won’t feel like too long a wait until spring.
Photos: Wikimedia (Chinese New Year Parade in Melbourne, Setsubun celebration in Kobe), Susan Sachs Lipman, Creative Commons (Groundhog)