The Lunar New Year (also known as the Spring Festival, Tet, or Seollal) begins this year on February 12. Families begin preparing weeks before, and celebrations last for two weeks until the Lantern Festival. According to the zodiac calendar, this year will begin the Year of the Metal Ox, known for hard work and honesty. Celebrations and traditions vary across geography and religion, but here are a few ways to celebrate in AsiaTown!
Preparing for the New Year
Oranges and mandarins represent luck and success. Bring pairs of oranges with leaves as gifts for visiting elders and family.
Candy symbolizes happiness and sweetness, so purchase sweets to usher in a happy life in the new year. Dried fruits and candy plates are very popular in the southern parts of China. Find a wide variety at any of the Asian grocery stores.
Money trees appear in weeks leading up to the New Year, representing the generation of more good luck and money in the new year. Businesses place red envelopes on a kumquat tree or branches to bring prosperity.
Decorate with fresh flowers. Some parts of China have held Flower Markets before the Lunar New Year for hundreds of years. The pussy willow is a particularly lucky flower, because its name in Chinese (yin liu) sounds like the word for “money flowing.”
Purchase new clothes to wear on New Year’s Day.
Red is considered a lucky color, representing happiness, beauty, good luck, and good fortune. Wear red and decorate with red during this festive season!
Clean the whole house. Sweeping and cleaning in preparation for the New Year symbolizes sweeping away bad luck from the last year. This must be done before the New Year begins, or it symbolizes sweeping away the good luck for the new year!
Cut your hair. It’s bad luck to cut your hair during the first month of the lunar calendar, so it is common practice to cut it in advance! In some regions, it’s very good luck to cut it on the second day of the second lunar month. Book an appointment with A9 Salon or Sun Hair Salon!
Celebration calendar. Starting with the Little New Year (February 4) and leading up to New Year’s Day, each day carries traditional activities to prepare for New Year’s Day. For example, it is traditional to buy tofu six days before or a whole chicken four days before. On February 9, families celebrate by decorating and preparing food for new year’s feasts. This includes hanging couplets and signs (hua) on doorways, or making dumplings and mantou 馒头. On New Year’s Eve, families gather to eat and exchange gifts.
Celebrating the New Year
A traditional celebration welcomes in the new year with loud firecrackers and a lion dance.
Wear something new on Lunar New Year’s Eve and Day.
Give out red envelopes (hong bao) with money, especially to children!
New Year’s Banquets and Feasts
Nian gao. A vegan sticky rice cake. Koko Bakery and LJ Shanghai.
Banh tet. A savory Vietnamese sticky rice cake. Cut and steam or deep fry slices. Pho Lee’s.
Fish. Symbolizes abundance, often eaten whole and steamed. Try the spicy steamed fish head at Sichuan Hot Pot or whole steamed fish at Siam Cafe.
Beef. Good luck for this year’s Year of the Ox. Try the hot and spicy beef Wonton Gourmet, or bulgogi and galbi from Korea House.
Dumplings. Symbolize wealth or good luck. Some regions add coins to the stuffing – whoever receives the coin is the luckiest for the year! For Korean New Year, mandu is lucky, too. LJ Shanghai, Han Kabob, or Miega.
Noodles. Long noodles represent longevity. Get spicy beef noodle soup at Sichuan Hot Pot or order extra noodles with your rice noodle soups at Dagu (offering a special for February – a free drink with two noodle soups!).
Lobster. A staple in new year’s banquets, try the sautéed lobster with ginger and scallion 姜葱吉祥虾 from Emperor’s Palace. Whole lobster signifies unity and marriage.
Nuts and seeds. Families sit around tables and crack open trays of seeds (such as peanuts or melon seeds). Find them at any of the Asian grocery stores. Tink Holl, Good Harvest, Asia Food Co, Park to Shop.
Lamb. This is a cherished meal in inner Mongolia and parts of Eastern and Northern China. Lamb dumplings are popular for Muslim communities in Northwest China. Order the Xinjian style lamb or lamb kabobs at Han Kabob.
Duck. Representing fidelity, duck is a must-have at Lunar New Year feasts. Try the roast duck at Good Harvest Food Market, Peking duck buns at Siam Cafe, or Peking duck at Li Wah.
Hot pot. Many families celebrate the New Year with hot pot. Purchase to-go at Sichuan Hot Pot or make your own! Find all necessary equipment and ingredients at Tink Holl, Park to Shop, and Good Harvest.
Chicken. Chicken represents flying to reach greater heights in the new year. Chicken soup is a beloved tradition, or try the three pepper chicken from Szechaun Cafe.
Pork. In many families, New Year’s feasts feature all of the meat! Try the pepper pork belly fortune soup at Bo Loong, pork knuckle pot at Emperor’s Palace, or crispy sweet and sour pork 夫妻肺片 at Szechuan Gourmet.
Shrimp. Walnut shrimp is another popular banquet dish. Shrimp represents happiness and laughter. Bo Loong, Li Wah, Siam Cafe, or mix it up with a shrimp dish at Map of Thailand.
Rice cakes. Tteokguk is known as the Korean new year soup, bringing good fortune and prosperity, as the rice cake shapes resemble Korean coins. Ha Ahn, Rising Grill. Or find rice cakes to make at home at Kim’s Market.