We're talking with Annie Guo VanDan from Asian Avenue Magazine (@asianavemag) about celebrating Lunar New Year. We know this holiday is so important in Asian cultures and wanted to learn more of its significance and connection to families. We hope you enjoy as much as we did!
Wanderwild: What is Lunar New Year and why is it celebrated?
Annie: Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is the largest holiday celebrated in China that includes a 15-day celebration ending with the Lantern Festival (on the last day), family traveling long distances to get together to feast, and taking time to pay respects to ancestors. Lunar New Year is also observed in Vietnam (known as Tết), Taiwan, Singapore, and other parts of Asia including Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. Lunar New Year celebrates the beginning of the calendar year that follows the cycles of the moon. In 2021, the first day of the new year will be on February 12 and will welcome the Year of the Ox. In Chinese astrology, 12 animal signs are assigned by year and rotate in 12-year cycles. The animal sign dictates characteristics for that year, for instance, the Ox is considered diligent and hard-working, which may be a prediction of how 2021 will be for many people.
Wanderwild: How does your family celebrate Lunar New Year?
Annie: We have a mixed family, in which my husband is Vietnamese and I am Chinese. We both grew up celebrating Lunar New Year with the most common traditions of decorating our homes with couplets (poems) on the wall, wearing our cultural attire, and attending events with lion and dragon dances. Typically, we gather as a family for dinner on Lunar New Year's Eve to eat traditional East Asian dishes such as noodles which represent longevity and dumplings which represent wealth and abundance. The best part of gathering is to see multiple generations of our family together -- the youngest being my 1 year old daughter to my 95 year old grandmother.
Wanderwild: Is there a special tradition that is your favorite to partake in?
Annie: A special Lunar New Year tradition is passing red envelopes, or hong bao, to our children. The tradition is that married couples or those that are older provide red envelopes with money to children or those that are younger, in order to ward off evil spirits (or bad luck). Children thank their parents or adults for the gift and sometimes will kowtow, which is to kneel and bow their heads down to the ground, to show deep respect. We grew up with this tradition and are now passing it down to our daughters. It is important for us as Asian Americans to continue teaching our children about our history and traditions, so they can be proud of their cultural identities.
We also read children's books about Lunar New Year and eat pineapple cake. This year, the daycare our children go to will be celebrating Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day on Friday, February 12. We are happy to see more schools starting to incorporate other cultural holidays in their curriculum. This allows our children to feel a heightened sense of belonging.
Wanderwild: Why is it important for others to know about Lunar New Year?
Annie: As a Chinese-Vietnamese American family, it means a lot to us to see Lunar New Year being celebrated at schools, public events and among families who are not Asian. It opens up dialogue and provides space for us to share our traditions. Intercultural exchange is important so we can all have a better understanding and appreciation of cultures that are different than our own.
Wanderwild: What else would you like to share about this holiday?
Annie: Another aspect of Lunar New Year is having to clean your house before the first day of the new year arrives! So you still have some time! Think of it as 'spring cleaning' before spring gets here! Chinese people believe that a clean home gets rid of any bad luck from the previous year. But sweeping your home on the new year would sweep away your good luck. So be sure to get your house clean before February 12 and on that day, do not clean at all! Relax, wear red and enjoy time with your family!
Annie, we loved learning more about the special traditions of Lunar New Year! We're wishing all of our Wanderwild families celebrating this month blessings, good health, and prosperity in the Year of the Ox.