Celebrating Lunar New Year – Year of the Tiger!

By Ray Hom

Typically, around this time of year, the Asian community is busy preparing for the upcoming Lunar New Year. 

However, again, due to the pandemic, many of the planned activities and traditions may be virtual.  Community residents and businesses are resilient and will still celebrate the most important holiday of the year.

A listing of this year’s events can be found here: https://ocagc.org/2022lunarnewyear/

The Lunar New Year, most commonly associated with the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, falls on Tuesday, February 1st this year. It’s called the Lunar New Year because it marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar which is regulated by the cycles of the moon and sun. 

Feb 1st marks the beginning of the Year of the Tiger and is a fifteen (15) day celebration.  The Tiger is the third animal of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals and is considered to be brave, cruel, and forceful. It is the symbol of power in Chinese culture.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated across many East Asian countries including, but not limited to, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia.  Chinese and Vietnamese people around the world, including in the US, celebrate this holiday as the single most important holiday in their culture.

The Lunar New Year is a time for new beginnings and wishing others good fortune, happiness, and health. There are many activities surrounding the Lunar New Year, including the following, across various cities around the world:

·       Lunar New Year parades including colorful costumes, floats, firecrackers, and other attractions

·         Lion and Dragon dances and competitions

·         Chinatown fun runs or walks

·         Balls and pageants crowning Miss Chinatown

·         Street fairs

·         Fireworks

In addition to the events, there are many traditions associated with the festive season including:

·       The fifteen (15) day celebration kicks off on New Year’s Eve with a Reunion Dinner with family members. This is the most important part of the Chinese New Year celebration.  Relatives will travel long distances in order to attend their family dinner. It is estimated that there are 3.5 billion journeys within China. In addition, tens of millions of people travel to other countries making this the largest annual migration of people annually.

Certain foods are important to serve and eat during the Reunion Dinner because they represent a positive symbolic meaning for well wishes.  These can include a whole fish (wealth), duck (fidelity), pork (strength), rice (luck & wealth), noodles (longevity), mixed vegetables (family harmony), and dumplings (prosperity).

During the Reunion Dinner, it may be uncomfortable for many older singles when family members ask when they will get married.  To avoid such conversations, it is becoming more common for older singles to hire boyfriends/girlfriends.  Many Asians have socially conservative views, so some LGBTQ folk choose not to come out to their family.  This sometimes makes for interesting conversations, questions, and gossip among family members during the Reunion Dinner.

·       Hong Bao, Ang Pao, or Lai See are red envelopes with money that are handed out as a means to send good wishes and luck (as well as money!) Red envelopes are traditionally handed out by married couples to their parents, single adults, and children during the Chinese New Year celebrations as tokens of good fortune and blessing. In addition, envelopes from bosses to employees can be considered a special New Year’s bonus.

The Chinese are very auspicious and believe that good things come in pairs, so an even dollar amount is preferred. Having the number eight in the amount is considered lucky as it sounds like prosperity in Mandarin. However, don’t give an amount with the number 4 as it sounds like the word death. 

In the digital world we live in now, many red envelopes are now exchanged electronically, something that can be done via WeChat, China’s most popular communications app. 

·       Red is considered a lucky color, representing many positive things such as happiness, beauty, vitality, good luck, success, and good fortune.  Therefore, you will see red everywhere during this festive season, including decorations in homes and businesses. Red symbols are used to ward off evil.

·       Tangerines and oranges are displayed in many homes and businesses as a sign of luck and wealth.  The pronunciation and character for these fruits resemble the words for luck and success, respectively.  In addition, the fruits’ bright color symbolizes gold bringing good luck and wealth.  It is common when visiting relatives and friends to bring a pair of tangerines or oranges.  In return, the host will give a pair when guests leave.  Always bring a pair as odd numbers are believed to bring unhappiness.

·       Lion Dance – The lion is considered an animal that symbolized courage and determination.  Watching the lion dance is believed will bring good fortune.

·       Fireworks and firecrackers are commonplace in major cities around the world during midnight.

·       Many homes will be adorned with pussy willows which represent the beginning of spring because they bear the furry buds from the late winter season.  Again, the Chinese name of the plant, yin liu, sounds similar to “money flowing in.”

·      A favorite tradition in Singapore and Malaysia is Yusheng, a raw fish salad. Both countries will argue the rights to the origin of Yusheng.  It is said in Singapore that Cantonese immigrants from the Guangdong province in the 1940s brought it to Singapore.  It was popularized by Singaporean chefs over the years.

Yusheng is a communal ceremonial New Year’s dish where the ingredients are placed individually on a serving platter.  Each ingredient represents various wishes. Once the ingredients are called out, the fun part is that guests will stand up and toss the salad up in the air with chopsticks while yelling out their good wishes. The higher the toss, the more prosperity in the New Year. 

·       In China, the holiday period ends during the Lantern Festival. On the evening of the 15th day of the first lunar month, the night of the full moon, families gather for dinner and go out to see fireworks and light lanterns. Lanterns are put up for decoration, let loose to fly, and floated in rivers.

·       In the US, Lunar New Year is not a federal public holiday.  However, it is a legal observance in the state of California as of 2015. Hopefully, as more cities and communities have an increase in population of Asian Americans, more municipalities and states will consider doing the same as California.

During the Chinese New Year holiday, there are many superstitions. It may seem like Lunar New Year is a time when age-old superstitions are observed by households as festive customs & traditions. There are lots of little things you are supposed to do and not do, prior to and over the first 2 days of the holiday.  Listed below is a sampling of the Do’s and Don’ts:

Do:

·         Wear new clothes to bring good fortune and health

·         Wear red as the color represents good luck and happiness

·         Only talk about good & happy things to set the tone for the year ahead

·         Firecrackers are set off just after midnight to scare evil spirits. The flash and sound of firecrackers and fireworks scare away demons and evil ghosts.

·         Dragon Dances are popular as it’s believed that the loud beats of the drum along with the face of the dragon scare away evil spirits.

·         Pay back debts before the new year.

Don’t:

·         Do not cut your hair during the festive period

·         Do not use sharp objects like knives and scissors to avoid severing connections

·         Do not wash your clothes. Washing clothes is not allowed on the first day of the lunar year because it is seen as “washing one’s fortune and luck away” at the beginning of the year.

·         Do not sweep the floors or take out the garbage: Sweeping up and taking out the garbage symbolize removing the good luck from the house.

·         Avoid wearing black and white on the first day as they are considered unlucky colors

·         Do not give people mirrors as gifts – Mirrors are believed to attract ghosts. They are also easily broken, and anything that breaks is considered a bad omen.

To all who celebrate the Lunar New Year, wishing you a very Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year! 

If you have family, friends and/or colleagues that celebrate Lunar New Year, try saying this to them depending on their nationality:

Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin)

Gong Hei Fat Choy (Cantonese)

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Vietnamese)

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