Lunar New Year is considered the Thanksgiving of Asians and Asian Americans — and in Chinese culture, the new year is the most important holiday of the entire year. On Feb. 10, we bid farewell to the Year of the Dragon and usher in the Year of the Snake. According to the Chinese zodiac, the snake is enigmatic, intuitive, introspective, refined and collected. People born in the Year of the Snake — 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989 and 2001 — are said to be intelligent, wise, strong mediators and good at business.
Spending time with family and paying respect to elders are important traditions of this holiday. Chinese officials forecast that 3.4 billion trips will be taken during the 15-day holiday period in 2013, an increase of 8.6 percent from last year.
"We start our celebration on New Year's Eve by going to my parents' home to have dinner,"said Fred Teng, newly appointed member of AARP New York's executive council. "On New Year's Day, we visit my parents and my in-laws to pay our respects, and then my family and I go to Chinatown to catch the annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival to enjoy the festivities."
"Going to the home of my parents is a significant part of our culture as it communicates respect to our elders to show appreciation and wish them longevity, good health and a prosperous year," Teng adds. "For me, the goal is to extend these festivities and share my culture with people and groups outside of the Chinese community."
As with most cultures, food is a way of celebrating the new year, and one of the ways we show our love and appreciation for family and friends.
If your family does not live nearby, a great way to celebrate is to invite close friends and their families over to have a homemade dumpling party. You can also cook a few dishes that symbolize health, prosperity, long life and good luck for the year. Here are eight (eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture) recipes and party tips to celebrate your Lunar New Year.
Dumplings symbolize wealth, are easy to make and are a great take-away gift from the party! You can keep uncooked dumplings in the freezer to boil, steam or fry at another time. They are also great additions to soups. Feel free to substitute ground chicken or turkey for pork.
The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune so it is common to eat lettuce cups filled with other lucky food. For a bit of sweetness and crunch, you can also add chopped green apples to this dish.
In China, fish is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. When serving fish, you serve the whole head and tail, for eating the whole fish symbolizes having a prosperous year from the beginning to end.
Chicken or duck is served whole to represent the togetherness and unity of the family.
Noodles are served last because they represent longevity. Never cut the strands, they symbolize long life!
Pastry chef and New York restaurateur Pichet Ong has this lovely cookie recipe that melts in your mouth. The cookies are light with a crisp edge and chewy center. Yum!
7. Red Money Envelopes
Make sure to buy red money envelopes and fill them with chocolate gold coins and money to give to children in your family.
"The highlight of my family's celebration of Chinese New Year is the elaborate red envelope exchange extravaganza," said Kay Wang, executive council member of AARP California. "Each year, right after our New Year's Eve banquet, we would take endless turns, one generation after another — there are four altogether — and one person at a time, exchanging money, bear hugs and great laughs. I took my now 12-year-old, U.S.-born daughter back to Taiwan for Chinese New Year several times, she can never get enough of it."
8. Tangerines and Oranges
Tangerines or oranges bring wealth and luck for the new year. Give them away as gifts or have them on the table for a healthy dessert option.
Also of Interest
- Can you get paid to take care of your parents?
- Healthy Cooking Quiz: Cooking as healthy as you think you are?
- Find great volunteer opportunities in your community
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