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How do you celebrate Lunar New Year?

By Shirley L. Ng

Lunar New Year is a big holiday for many of Asian descent and AsAmNews wanted to know how some are preparing for the new year, year of the dragon.

A few weeks or days before the new year many starts shopping for food, flowers and many also get a haircut so that no new luck is cut away early in the new year. I recall some superstitions my mother told me, such as I should not wash my hair on New Year’s Day. If I did, I would be washing my luck away for the following year. She also told me not to play with sharp objects, not to use foul language and to wear red clothes. One of my most favorite things as a young single person celebrating Lunar New Year, as some in our interview spoke about is receiving red envelopes with money inside, known has “hong baos,” in Cantonese. I probably spent it on candy or on a new pair of sneakers back in the day.

We know a holiday isn’t a holiday without food and tradition, so AsAmNews went to the East Brunswick, NJ Library where a Lunar New Year celebration was being held to see who might want to share with us about how they celebrate the big holiday.

We spotted Jodie Woodward with her child, while waiting in the very long free bubble tea line.

Jodie Woodward prepares Korean dishes for Lunar New Year and reads to her children. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

“We decorate the house, we make sure the kids have a book that we read, and we go shopping for our special dinner,” said Woodward. She also said buys ingredients to prepare Korean dishes such as bibimbap and soup.

“Being an immigrant, I try to instill the old ways I was taught to my children. We stay up all night, eat, burn incense, and to welcome the ancestors home by burning paper money,” David Guh said with his 10-month-old baby in the stroller. The most memorable thing Guh remembered as a child was, “The food, festivities and the candy. Dumplings are a must,” he told AsAmNews. For Lunar New Year decorations, Guh said they can now be purchased, but when he was young, he didn’t have store bought decorations and remembers his grandmother making them by cutting paper to decorate the home.

David Guh celebrates Lunar New Year by burning paper money to welcome the ancestors and says that “dumplings are a must” for Lunar New Year. He also remembers homemade decorations his grandmother made when he was young. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

The Lunar New Year celebration was organized by the East Brunswick Arts Coalition and events included musical performances by young musicians, songs, dance performances, a traditional tea ceremony, a magic show and of course a lion dance performance.

“Ching Ying Dance Group” are three women that have been together for over a dozen years. They performed a silk umbrella dance and AsAmNews tracked them down afterwards to see how they celebrate Lunar New Year.

Leslie Huang, Alisha Cao and Ying Zhang of the Ching Ying Dance Group said they will have fish, dumplings and wear new clothes for the new year. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

“A fancy feast will be a must,” said Ying Zhan, one of the three dancers. Leslie Huang spoke about having fish in their Lunar New Year meal and Alisha Cao said one of her favorite memories of the new year when she was young, was burning firecrackers with a candle. Together,  they told AsAmNews about the foods they eat such as fish and dumplings and to wear new clothes to welcome the new year. 

Families come together to share a large meal on Lunar New Year. There are many varieties of dishes from meat, fish and vegetables. Photo by: Shirley L. Ng

Simon Chen and Ring Li were enjoying the celebration when AsAmNews asked them how they celebrate Lunar New Year. In the video you can see how they each spoke enduringly (with a smile) about their wives preparing a Lunar New Year dinner of traditional food. Chen explains in the video why you are not to finish the fish and to purposely leave some leftovers behind. His friend Li speaks how his family decorates the home with signs of well wishes in Chinese and will have chicken, bar-be-que meats as part of the Lunar New Year meal.

Simon Chen and Ring Li said their wives prepare the Lunar New Year Dinner and decorate their homes. They chuckled when they spoke about receiving the red envelopes filled with money when they were young. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

Also on the free bubble tea line, we spoke with Alina Chen. She told AsAmNews her family enjoys hot pot during many holidays and explains the significance of the cirlcles of the hot pot which “represents reunion.” Chen also said her friends and families come together to share goals for the new year.

In an interview with East Brunswick, NJ Mayor Brad Cohen, he tells AsAmNews why it is important to celebrate Lunar New Year and how he’s proud of the diversity in his town

East Brunswick, NJ Mayor Brad Cohen said he is proud of the diversity in his town to have such a celebration. AsAmNews also taught him how to say “Happy New Year” in Cantonese during the interview. We will gladly take credit. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

The mayor also acknowledges NJ Governor Phil Murphy officially recognizing the holiday in the state. Then for fun, we asked the mayor if he knew his zodiac sign. He told us he was born in the year of the rat. Near the end of the interview, AsAmNews taught the mayor how to say “happy new year’ in Cantonese because he didn’t know how. We will gladly take credit for teaching the mayor a valuable language lesson. 

Alina Chen plans to enjoy hot pot on Lunar New Year and spending time with family and friends to share about their goals in the new year. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

The most important thing with all those that we spoke with said it was important to be share a meal with family, visit extended family and friends during the Lunar New Year, this year specifically is year of the wood dragon. Also don’t forget what Chen said in his interview, don’t eat up all of the fish. You must leave some as leftovers which symbolizes having an abundance of many things in the new year.

Share with AsAmNews how you celebrate Lunar New Year.

AsAmNews wishes all of you a happy and healthy new year in the year of the dragon.  

Happy Lunar New Year! Time is running out to support our Lunar New Year Fundraising Drive through this link. The campaign ends today. AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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