lunar new year

Lunar New Year: the Year of the Ox

Carl Witton examines the Lunar New Year and its effect on business throughout the Asian continent particularly, in Vietnam where he lives.

“In Asia, business leaders ignore the cultural importance of Lunar New Year at their peril.” - Carl Witton.

To Asian people, Lunar New Year is the most auspicious period in the calendar. Tet” as it is called in Vietnam, is incredibly important to people here. It is a time for families to be together, enjoying each others company. Business grinds to a halt as millions of people travel around the country back to their home towns to celebrate. It is estimated that approximately 37 million Vietnamese travel to their home towns every year for Tet; this makes it the largest human migration on the planet.

The Story Behind the Lunar New Year

Legend tells of an ancient Emperor who held a race between 12 different creatures to see what order they would attend his party. The Rat tricked everyone by riding on the Oxs back then jumping off just before the finishing line to win the race. Therefore the Rat is seen to be lucky and good for small businesses. Ironically 2020 was the Year of the Rat, but COVID put paid to all the good auspices. Everyone is hoping that 2021, the Year of the Ox, will be much improved. 

Foreigners living in Asia, must recognise the immense cultural significance of the Lunar New Year. It is difficult to imagine the importance placed on it. Cities literally empty as people return home to villages and small towns.

luna new year
Photo by: Jason Leung on Unsplash

The Effect On Business

Just about everything closes down for a period of about ten days in Vietnam. Vietnamese businesses pay their staff an extra months salary at this time of year. For anyone doing business here, it is important to respect this cultural phenomenon. Buying gifts for clients is well respected and very much appreciated. The giving of red envelopes with a small amount of lucky’ money (li xi) is also the norm. These are normally given to children or members of staff. 

It is worth remembering that the year of a persons birth sign, (Ben Ming Nian) is thought to be unlucky. Therefore, 2021 will be a turbulent year for the people born in earlier years of the Ox. They will feel that they are facing unexpected challenges, especially in their careers and studies. This may leave them feeling stressed out, distracted, and emotional. Tread carefully.

The Ox is the second of the Zodiac animals and is believed to be good for careers as it denotes hard work, positivity, and honesty. These beliefs run right through large parts of Asia. Particularly Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan. A full explanation can be found here.

Getting the Balance Right

Advertising during this time in Asia needs to be respectful to traditions and aware of cultural differences. Getting the brief right in this market is important. Big brands such as Burberry, Bvlgari and Pepsi have all recently had Lunar New Year mishaps. It’s a fine line between celebrating Asian traditions and cultural faux pas.

However, Adidas absolutely nailed it this year in China. Their 90-second TVC features typical scenarios commonly seen in New Year-themed movies, such as lion dances, magic tricks, and kung fu. Using top Chinese actors of various ages they have reached a very broad demographic. 

Apple too, understand the importance of the Asian market to their brand. This year’s Luna New Year offering is a stunning short film, shot on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Directed by Lulu Wang, it’s the story of a Chinese New Year legend reimagined as a contemporary coming-of-age story. 

The cultural importance of this time of year runs throughout Asia. In Singapore, for example, it surpasses even Christmas as the most searched festive occasion. It is quite interesting that throughout Asia, even among practicing Christians, the Lunar New Year remains the most important holiday. 

Respect the Cultural Significance

Working within the Asian business community can be the most rewarding experience imaginable. However, it is imperative that we remember these cultural differences, respect the local practices and work with and around the challenges that go with them. Asia is the fastest-growing market in the world at the moment, and it shows no signs of changing. 

The Asian people respect hard work and are open to innovative ideas. They are also steeped in tradition and are very superstitious. Remember to respect their beliefs during Lunar New Year, and you too will find the experience extremely rewarding.

Happy Lunar New Year

This article first appeared as an opinion piece by Carl Witton, in February, 2021. 

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