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Asian Culture

AAPAAN Shares: Lunar New Year Stories

Happy Lunar New Year

In this special edition of Dear AAPAAN, we share our favorite memories, stories, and traditions of Lunar New Year. 

Here’s to a happy and prosperous Year of the Rat!

“I was born in the year of the rat, so 2020 will be my year! I just read the zodiac for the rat and it sounds really awesome!

“According to the Chinese zodiac, ‘Even though the year will be a challenge in many areas, the Rat’s career will not be among them. Success will flourish in the workplace, yielding benefits of all kinds. Finances will be booming for the entirety of the year! Your income might even DOUBLE. It would do you well to save and invest your hard-earned money. Try to avoid spending it all on luxurious items and vacations. Instead, splurge on little experiences here and there.’

“I look forward to the blessings of the new year! Happy Lunar New Year to everybody!”

– Doug Uyeda (MSMIT 2015), AAPAAN Board Member & Communications Committee Chair

“A couple of things come to mind about Lunar New Year when I was young. There was the ubiquitous red envelopes with a bit of cash that we got as children from friends and relatives. Of course we received the envelopes and immediately hand them over to our parents and that was that. So there was not much fun in the gift giving. No toys, just money (for school later hopefully).

“The joy of Lunar Year was of course the food just like any holiday. In particular I remembered it was a social gathering to make fried sugar crescents. My mother and relatives would roll thin sheets of dough (like a tortilla). She would spoon on a mixture of crushed peanuts, shredded coconuts and sugar. The sheet dough was folded over the mixture (like a taco!). The crescent was cut and sealed using the inverted edge of a rice bowl. The crescents were deep fried. I haven’t seen anything like that since I was a child.”

– Wee Yee (SEAS 1974), AAPAAN Board Chair

“Chinese Lunar New Year is special because of the reminder for me that I am tied to the family that helped me become who I am. As an Asian-American immigrant, I consider myself fortunate for my parents’ sacrifices of leaving their home country to come to the United States in order to provide new opportunities for me and my brother. So whenever we get together to celebrate the new year, we can cease to think about work, stress, and other challenges like things that didn’t get accomplished last year, and spend the energy instead, on making and eating lots of dumplings, enjoying mom’s home cooking, talking, joking, laughing, and reconnecting with extended family members from near and far.

“This year is special because it is the year of the Rat. People born in the year of rat, like me, are known to be industrious and thrifty. My father said I am neither. Very wise words from my dad. Well, it’s a new year, so better start working on being industrious and thrifty!

“Happy Lunar New Year AAPAAN!”

– Jamie Rim (CLAS 1993), AAPAAN Member 

“In the United States, many of my fellow Chinese diaspora members experience a succession of holidays during the winter. Starting with Christmas, the New Year follows a week later, and then the Chinese New Year a month or two later. As a result, we sometimes blend the celebrations together. 

“Last year’s Christmas dinner will be a favorite memory of mine. I am one of four children (Jack T. Chen, is one of them), and my siblings gathered with my parents. We had a special announcement to make and recruited my four-year old nephew who had been learning about the Chinese zodiac. (He’s a horse as he’ll proudly tell anyone). 

“We gathered for dinner and for the post-meal entertainment, I asked him to perform a skit with little figurines representing the different characters of the zodiac. Other cousins assisted, handing out the figurines to the different members in attendance. A rat went to my father, a rabbit to my mother. My wife and I got the sheep, and finally a little pig figurine was presented to my parents, who gave a quizzical look. ‘Who in our family is a little pig?’ With that, we announced our anticipated arrival of their next granddaughter.

“Cora arrived in the year of the pig in June 2019 and is looking forward to her first Chinese New Year in a few weeks.

“Happy Chinese New Year; may it be prosperous and filled with love and hope!”

– James Tsai (SEAS 2001), Previous AAPAAN Chair (2012-2016)

“We Vietnamese celebrate Lunar New Year, and it’s always a fun time of age-old tradition. We were always supposed to clean the house, as you always wanted to start the year by tossing out the impurities and bad luck that’s accumulated and start fresh. We’d eat a special kind of dish reserved just for the new year, sticky rice stuffed with meat and mung beans, and then go around to our local family members so that my siblings and I could wish our elders a happy new year. In return, they would bestow red envelopes with cash in it for good luck (something that I miss more than ever, now that I’m an adult and have to be the ones giving out lucky money to my younger cousins!). 

“For our family members farther away, our parents would call them and we’d each get on the phone and recite our Vietnamese well-wishes and got to chat with them, since we connect so few times during the year. Now that I’m older and live away from my family, I appreciate those times, and always try to be back with my immediate family as much as I can. It’s always better when you’re with family.”

– Victoria Nguyen (CLAS 2016), AAPAAN Board Member & Programs Committee Co-Chair

“My favorite part of Chinese New Year is the food! Some of my favorite dishes are traditionally eaten for the New Year’s Eve dinner, and as a writer, I am fascinated by the wordplay that explains the traditions. For example, the Chinese word for ‘surplus’ (as in, surplus from a harvest) sounds like ‘fish,’ and so fish is a featured entrée. The word ‘cake’ from glutinous rice cake, translated as ‘New Year’s cake,’ sounds like the word ‘tall’ or ‘to grow,’ and so the name of the cake sounds like the phrase ‘growing taller every year’ (for kids) or ‘increasing prosperity every year’ (for everyone). Sweet rice balls are eaten because its name sounds like the words ‘reunion,’ referring to families reuniting in celebration. Oranges are also popular because the word for ‘orange’ can sound like ‘success’ or ‘good luck.’

“Other foods that families commonly prepare are dumplings, because they are shaped like silver ingots, the currency used in ancient China. Spring rolls are shaped like gold bars, and also have the word ‘spring’ in its name. Longevity noodles, a dish consisting of (ideally) one, single, long noodle, symbolizes wishes for a long life. Eight treasure rice, a sweet, sticky rice dish featuring eight different nuts and fruits, symbolizes wealth. Candy is also popular because we all want the new year to start off on a sweet note!”

– Rose Zu (COMM 2012), AAPAAN Board Vice Chair