Celebrating Lunar New Year with traditional dishes

by Sonya Bhagwan (’24) | February 11, 2022

Art by Ava Hennen (’22)

Lunar New Year is among the most widely celebrated Southeast and East Asian holidays. Every year, family and friends gather to celebrate the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunar calendar which rotates a yearly cycle of twelve animal signs. “Every year we get red pockets, or envelopes of money, from family and friends. It really is a celebration that brings everyone together. If you sleep with the red pockets under your pillow, my mom says it brings good luck,” Will Li (‘23) shared.

This year, February 1st marks the start of the Year of the Tiger. Chinese teacher Shuai Yuan explained, “We usually only visit our relatives once a year, during Chinese New Year, so the holiday is really important to us. Each family prepares their best dishes, and we eat together.” 

Special dishes are eaten during Lunar New Year for their symbolic meaning, many of which bring good luck for the coming year. A common “lucky dish” eaten during the Lunar New Year is dumplings or 饺子 (jiaozi) in Mandarin. Kylie Chen (‘24) said, “dumplings are shaped like ancient Chinese money to symbolize wealth and prosperity.” According to Chinese tradition, the more dumplings one eats during the yearly celebrations, the more money they get in the New Year. Some traditions call for hiding a white thread in a single dumpling, and whoever eats it is blessed with a long, healthy life. 

However, dumplings are not the only popular dish. Junior Alexander Chang says: “In my family, you have to eat fish for health for the coming year.”

Another special Lunar New Year dish are rice cakes, made with sticky rice and various flavors such as red bean and brown sugar. Rice cakes, or 年高 (nián gāo) in Mandarin symbolize a wish for every year to be better, or “higher” than the last year, given that gao means “tall” or “high” in Chinese.” Louis Chavey (‘22) said, “My mother learned how to prepare them from her mom, and I’m really proud that this recipe has been handed down for generations in my family.”

In Korean tradition, celebrators eat another kind of rice cake. “Tteokguk, known as rice cake soup, is customarily eaten for the new year and symbolically shows that we are one year older,” Jiyou Lee (‘24) shared.

Promoting community and prosperity, Chinese culture builds a beautiful Lunar New Year around appreciating our loved ones and coming together. Vanessa Ko (‘24), a Saint Francis student of Chinese heritage said, “For me, Lunar New Year means a time for families to unite and celebrate Chinese culture together.” 

In her Chinese language classes, Mrs. Yuan shares Chinese culture, often rooted in language and meaning, to highlight the heritage and traditions of Lunar New Year. She said, “We celebrate Chinese New Year with all four different Chinese levels. We write Chinese calligraphy, we have potlucks, we make dumplings, and I give them red envelopes with treats. We even do performances in the Sobrato Commons, like Chinese dancing, Kung Fu, and martial arts.” 

Categories: Food

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