Once a year, sometime between mid-January and the end of February, you may notice some interesting phenomena – friends feverishly making dumplings by hand, keto afficionados slurping down noodles, piles of citrus fruit in people’s dining rooms, and whole fish on the table with the head and eyes pointed right at you. If you wonder what’s going on, the answer is easy – it’s the Lunar New Year!
And what does one do on Lunar New Year? Well, regardless of which Asian culture is in your background, the answer is always the same: EAT!
In Chinese culture, the food eaten at the New Year always represents some kind of good fortune in the future. If you don’t eat it, you won’t get any. So no matter where you are, you’ll find dumplings on the table – they represent wealth and look like a closed purse, full of money. Long noodles mean a long life and happiness, so don’t cut them! Oranges and tangerines look like round golden coins and represent success and luck – in Cantonese the words also sound similar. Leeks, garlic and green onions abound – not only are they good for your health, but they represent being smart and working hard. Sticky rice balls, often served as a desert in a sweet soup, represent family and togetherness. And a whole fish is always on the table – head and tail attached. The Chinese word for fish also sounds like the word for surplus – so eat up, and you will have more than you need in the New Year!
Living in Munich, I’m fortunate to have found an excellent Asian grocery store, but our tiny apartment and kitchen are way too small for a big sit-down dinner party. Instead, since the New Year celebrations are 14 days long, we spread out the feasting. And with Covid-19 still hanging around like an uninvited guest, it’s a good thing that we have so much time to get all that luck under our belts.
Traditionally, the Lunar New Year is celebrated across most of Asia, with fireworks, gifts, family gatherings, and food. The celebration stretches across multiple days (in China, 16 days!) and is also the largest annual human migration in the world – or it was, until Covid-19. Many people head home for the celebration to visit parents, children, siblings and extended family. Each culture celebrates differently, but the central tenets remain the same: family, food, and good fortune.
This year marks the start of the Year of the Metal Ox. According to the zodiac, people born in the year of the Ox are grounded, loyal, gentle and trustworthy. More information and details can be found here in this TED-Ed video.
Wondering about other Asian celebrations of the New Year? Check out these articles and websites:
- Vietnam: Innovation and Diaspora at the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (The New York Times)
- Korea: Eumlyeog Seolnal (음력 설날) is a 3 day celebration (Asia Society)
- Tibet: Losar – Welcoming the New Year (Experience Tibet)
Share your New Year stories with us! Email [email protected].