By Kevin James Jeffery 5:35 pm PST

For Americans, Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather and eat. For many western cultures, Christmas is that time. For Muslims throughout the world, Eid is a time for families, friends, and neighbors to break bread after Ramadan.

In China and throughout ethnic cultures throughout the world, Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) is one of the most important holidays of the year.

Most westerners probably know LNY as that time for parades and fireworks going off in China towns around cities. But in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and other countries, it’s a time when people head home to catch up with friends and family while feasting.

Celebrated by over 1.5 billion people each year, travel during Lunar New Year is heralded as the world’s largest annual human migration. In 2019 alone, 3 billion trips were made during the LNY holiday.

Like most holidays throughout the world, Lunar New Year has its own rituals and customs. For example, many families hang two pairs of door gods known as mén shén at the entrance of their homes to protect against evil spirits.

Ancestor worship

 One of the most common rituals practiced during the Lunar New Year is ancestor worship. Celebrated on LNY Eve, it is tradition for the male head of the household to lead the family in making offerings to the spirits of their ancestors.

Oftentimes, this ceremony will begin by sealing the cracks of the doors with red paper to prevent last year’s bad luck from entering the house, and any good luck from escaping. First, respect would be made to all the gods the family wishes to remain on good terms with, such as the god of wealth or the god of health.

Afterward, attention would turn to the ancestors, where sacrifices of food are given while incense is burned. Depending on the wealth of the family, members will then kneel before ancestral tablets to pay respect, or in front of an altar within an ancestral hall dedicated to deceased family members.

Elderly and grandparents

 Just as important is showing respect to elderly family members. This is shown by kneeling or bowing (kowtow) to each generation above, starting with the eldest. It’s normal for children to be rewarded for showing respect with red envelopes filled with money (yasuiqian).

After the ancestor worship is complete, the family sits down for perhaps their biggest meal of the year. Seafood such as whole fish, oysters, shrimp, and clams are a typical main course. Egg-skin dumplings, meat-filled dumplings, soybean sprouts, nuts, sweets, and pastries can also accompany the enormous feast.

While it’s normal for modern families to stay up throughout the night watching holiday programs on the TV while waiting for the new year’s firecrackers and explosions. For the ancestors of their family, a Lunar New Year night would have consisted of playing games, drinking wine, singing, joking around, and telling stories.