Photo of a large dragon lantern during a Lunar New Year celebration

Why is the Year of the Dragon so special? A CWRU faculty member explains

Across Asia and in communities around the world, the Lunar New Year carries rich traditions and cultural meaning. The celebration marks the beginning of the New Year according to the lunar calendar, starting with the first new moon and lasting 15 days until the first full moon. 

During this time, families and friends gather for colorful events with traditional food to honor their deities and ancestors. Many celebrations are marked by the widely recognized lion dance and vibrant lanterns. 

This year’s festival, which marks the Year of the Dragon, begins Saturday, Feb. 10.

Photo of Zayn Wang holding a sparkler to celebrate the Lunar New Year
Zayn Wang

“The most meaningful part of celebrating New Year for me is gathering with the people around you, doing things that bring joy, and cherishing the ephemeral yet precious time you have together,” said Zayn Wang, a third-year student studying business management and psychology at Case Western Reserve University. Having lived in Shanghai for the first 16 years of his life, Wang says Lunar New Year celebrations in the U.S. aren’t the same as in China, but it’s possible to recreate traditions with friends, such as making dumplings from scratch.

“People from different parts of China do different celebrations for the New Year,” Wang explained, “but the main idea is always to get together and spend a good time with each other, and that spirit is the most important part for me.”.

Given the added significance this year’s “Year of the Dragon” festivities hold, The Daily spoke with Peter Yang, associate professor and section head of Chinese in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, to get more insight on what makes it so special.

Read on to learn Yang’s insights.

1. The Year of the Dragon carries extra significance in Chinese culture.

The Year of the Dragon holds immense significance in the Chinese zodiac, repeating every 12 years. And this year’s Chinese Lunar New Year, occurring Feb. 10, follows the Year of the Rabbit, with Dragon. In contrast to the other eleven animal signs (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig) in the Chinese zodiac, Dragon is the only legendary creature. It symbolizes power, good fortune, and strength and is associated with auspicious traits like intelligence, ambition and charisma. 

Historically linked with imperial power, Chinese emperors considered themselves descendants of dragons, emphasizing the dragon’s esteemed position. 

2. While the dragon is legendary in Chinese culture, its interpretation in Western cultures is vastly different.

European legends portray dragons as demonic, malevolent beings guarding treasures to be  conquered by heroic kings. The persistent malevolent connotations of the dragon in Western cultures can be directly attributed to the influence of early Christianity, where the dragon and its serpentine relations were often regarded as stand-ins for the devil. 

In contrast to the Western connotations of the dragon, the dragon in Chinese culture symbolizes good luck, strength, health and the male element Yang. Chinese dragons are heralded as bringers of good fortune, associated with rain and water. This positive connotation in China stems from the dragon’s role as a symbol of imperial power and authority. 

3. The Year of the Dragon’s significance extends beyond Chinese culture.

Celebrated not only in China but also in various Asian countries—including Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia—the Year of the Dragon is revered as a symbol of power, nobility and good luck.  

The celebrations create a unifying force, fostering a sense of shared heritage and identity among diverse Asian communities. Despite cultural differences, the common thread of dragon symbolism creates a bond that transcends borders. 

4. The Year of the Dragon continues to preserve cultural identity among Asian communities.

Celebrating the Year of the Dragon serves as a platform for Asian communities to showcase and preserve their unique cultural identities. Through traditional practices, rituals and art forms associated with the dragon, these communities pass down their rich heritage to younger generations, ensuring that cultural traditions remain vibrant and relevant. 

5. The Year of the Dragon influences contemporary celebrations and modern interpretations of tradition.

Rooted in ancient traditions, the Year of the Dragon has evolved to incorporate modern elements. Festivals now include technology-infused dragon dances, social media campaigns, and global events connecting Asian diaspora communities worldwide. This blend of tradition and modernity ensures that cultural  celebrations remain dynamic and relevant in today’s diverse and interconnected world.

Looking to engage in these traditions? Join Case Western Reserve University’s International Student Resources and Engagement Office for an on-campus celebration Friday, Feb. 9, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Tinkham Veale University Center. The event will feature giveaways, a photo opportunity, red envelopes containing chocolate coins and more. Learn more about the event.

Or, for another local option, check out the Lunar New Year celebration in AsiaTown.