On Sunday, communities across the world will usher in the Year of the Rabbit with the start of the Lunar New Year.

The Lunar New Year celebrates the beginning of spring and the new year in keeping with the lunisolar calendar. According to the Smithsonian, it’s China’s most significant holiday and is celebrated in other countries like South Korea and Vietnam.

The Lunar New Year festival is celebrated for 14 days and will end this year with a Lantern Festival on Feb. 5, 2023.

How is the Lunar New Year celebrated?

New Year celebrations are a time of family reunions, meant to honor ancestors and bring families together, per Chinese New Year. Food is an instrumental part of the festival, with special dishes associated with the celebration.

Exchanges of red envelopes containing money are also a popular tradition among communities that partake in the festivities, per National Geographic.

Lighting firecrackers is a common New Years tradition in China, though air pollution regulations have caused a downward trend in their use. People decorate their homes in the color red as well, as the color symbolizes the prosperity they hope for in the New Year.

In Vietnam, the festival is referred to as Tet, National Geographic reports. Along with red envelopes of lucky money, Vietnamese people prepare for the festival with peach blossoms and/or kumquats.

In an Instagram reel, Vietnamese creator Uyen Ninh explains that kumquat trees represent prosperity and peach blossom trees are said to bring luck and peace to the buyers home.

In the video, Ninh also explains how she divvies up money across her home village in Vietnam.

In South Korea, people celebrate with rice cake soup, traditional dress and white envelopes, the red envelope’s counterpart, per The Diplomat.

Why is Vietnam celebrating the Year of the Cat?

2023 is the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese Zodiac. In Vietnam, however, revelers are gearing up to celebrate the cat.

According to NPR, one explanation has to do with the linguistics behind the naming of each of the years of the zodiac. NPR reports: “Months are set using the orbits of the moon and the Earth, with leap months added every few years to stay in sync with the solar cycle. Each year in the calendar is given a name using a combination of 12 earthly branches — each of which corresponds to an animal in the zodiac — and 10 heavenly stems.”

The earthly branch for this year is called Mao, which is similar to “cat” in Vietnamese. Thus, this is the Year of the Cat for Vietnamese households.

This explanation is only a theory, though, and there are others that trace the change to a difference in zodiac lore, the difference between the fauna in China and Vietnam’s landscapes and other urban legends, per NPR.

According to my grandmother, Vietnam celebrates the Year of the Cat because “that’s what it was supposed to be.” She was raised to believe that at some point it was changed to be the rabbit in China, not the other way around.

The Year of the Cat is entrenched in lore, none of which has been proven, so we go with what our elders say. In my family, the cat is this year’s symbol. In others, it’s the rabbit.

At the end of the day, the Lunar New Year festival is all about celebrating family, the upcoming arrival of spring and the start of a hopefully prosperous new year.