East Asian families come together to ring in the Lunar New Year

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Photo/Anya Pinto“I SPI: Seeing culture through every eye” is a new series on iPatriotPost aiming to combat ignorance with cultural education. According to a survey conducted by the ActionPAKT club at our school, only 46% of students (53 out of 116 total respondents) were able to name and explain the significance behind a celebration outside of their own culture. I SPI will spotlight a different tradition in each article in order to raise awareness and acceptance. If you have an idea about something we could feature, please fill out this Google Form.

The concept of a New Year is actually rather old. About 4,000 trips-around-the-sun ago, the Chinese began studying the moon, celebrating the Lunar – or Chinese – New Year for the first time.

Nowadays, East Asians from Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and mainland China celebrate the Lunar New Year for 15 days starting on the second new moon after the winter solstice. This year, it began Jan. 22.

Family and food are always central to the traditions. Chinese teacher Ms. Wenjing Hu reflected upon the foods eaten during Lunar New Year and their significance. “Eating dumplings is a unique way to express people’s wish for good fortune and luck as they welcome the new year. They are shaped like a treasure: to be wrapped in dumplings means to be wrapped in good fortune, so eating dumplings symbolizes a rich life,” she said.

Before the Lunar New Year, people clean their houses in order to get rid of the old year’s bad luck. They decorate their homes with red lanterns and sparkling lights; junior Charlotte Wu enjoys the tradition with her family, and values the symbolic significance behind it. “Red symbolizes luck, so every year when the new year arrives, we hope to drive away bad luck and attract good fortune. We also give each other red envelopes with money in them as gifts,” Wu said.

These envelopes are traditionally only given to children and younger unmarried relatives, and the money inside them must be new, crisp bills. The number eight is considered lucky in China, whereas four is associated with death, so the money amounts usually either start or end with an eight.

“In my Chinese classes, we would come together to decorate our classroom, and we would also have parents to make dumplings with us, taste the traditional food together and learn more about the culture. Of course, each student receives a red envelope with ancient Chinese coins, which represents all my best wishes to them for the new year,” Ms. Hu said.

For immigrant families in the U.S., the Lunar New Year celebrations do vary. However, Ms. Hu points out that the central theme of family and feasting generally remains unchanged. Junior Charlotte Wu and senior Asher Lee expanded upon their personal traditions.

“The main thing that we do every year is have large family gatherings – we sometimes even play volleyball or pickleball – and we always make dumplings together. My favorite part is seeing everybody together, because this yearly occasion brings together a lot of my family who live far away from us as well,” Wu said. 

“I’m from Taiwan, but the way we celebrate the Lunar New Year is pretty similar, incorporating fireworks and dancing in addition to the traditional red envelope-giving event. My favorite part is eating all the delicious food my family members bring to our potluck,” Lee said.

Ms. Hu encourages students to participate in the festivities by seeking out local Chinese or East Asian communities. The Chinese Honor Society at Heritage is hosting a Lunar New Year Karaoke Night in the Chorus Room Wednesday, Jan. 25 after school. Admission is $5, and English or Chinese performances are eligible to win cash prizes.

To celebrate the Lunar New Year Jan. 22, Wu’s family prepares a feast together. (Photo/Charlotte Wu)

Now a senior at American Heritage, Anya returns as Editor-in-Chief of the Patriot Post. With her passion for journalism, she is Co-President of the Quill and Scroll Honor Society. She started an organization called “ActionPAKT: Projects Advocating for a Kinder Tomorrow” to educate youth about current issues and help them take action; currently, she has expanded it to 15+ chapters in multiple countries, raising $17,000 within the Heritage chapter itself. As a Youth Ambassador for Bullets4Life, Anya advocates for gun control. She leads the top Model UN program in the nation as President, competing nationally and organizing conferences at school. To relax, Anya hangs out with friends, swims, goes on walks and binge watches Netflix. She loves the beach, good food and her lazy little dog Simba more than anything.