Chinese New Year, also known as the lunar new year, is fast approaching. In 2016, Chinese New Year begins Feb. 8, and so preparations, which can take a month or longer, are already beginning for this important occasion in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and elsewhere, chiefly in Asia.

In Chinese tradition, the new year falls on a different date every year because it is calculated based on the lunar calendar, rather than the Gregorian one, where the new year begins on Jan. 1. This year, 2016, is the Year of the Monkey, in accordance with the Chinese zodiac. The year 2015 was the Year of the Goat.

The lunar new year is extremely important in Chinese culture, in which the holiday is also known as the Spring Festival, and in China, seven days are designated as public holidays for Chinese New Year. Families gather from far and wide to celebrate together and launch a new, auspicious year by eating lucky foods, exchanging gifts and decorating homes.

Before the holiday, it's tradition to thoroughly clean one's home, both inside and out, as well as oneself. That means getting a haircut, buying new clothing and, in general, beginning a period of new beginnings, renewal and rejuvenation.

On New Year's Day, children receive money, enclosed in envelopes called "hongbao." Auspicious foods — often considered so because of their names — are eaten. In northern China, people eat dumplings, or jiaozi, because the name sounds similar to "bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new." In the south, people eat a sticky cake of rice flour, because the name for it, niangao, is a homophone for "higher and higher, year after year."

Other traditions include eating New Year's Eve dinner together. Important, auspicious foods for this meal include chicken, fish and tofu. People will decorate their homes with red lanterns, and they'll post the Chinese character "fu," meaning a blessing, or fortune, upside down, in a play on words that means "fortune has arrived."