Growing up in suburban New Jersey among only a few Asian families, I didn’t know much about Lunar (Chinese) New Year. I didn’t speak Chinese and had never been to Asia. All I knew was that once a year, sometime in February, I would get a few crisp $20 bills tucked in a red envelope. As a kid, I looked forward to the cash and didn’t ask any questions. Only later in college did I learn more about the Lunar New Year. Here’s what I’ve learned:
It’s the biggest holiday of the year. Think Thanksgiving, Christmas (no presents, just cash, please) and a huge family reunion mash-up. For many in China, it’s the only vacation they’ll get.
It’s all about family. Relatives from near and far will come together to celebrate. People put aside their petty differences and just be happy.
Like all epic holidays, the food takes center stage. Homemade Chinese food is always preferred! Part of the fun is cooking and food prep; it’s an opportunity to bond with family. Above pic shows homemade pineapple cakes (credit my cousin Sylvia).
There are must-have dishes on the menu. This can vary depending on what region of China one’s ancestors are from. Some common dishes are sticky rice cakes (nian gao) and whole fish.
These dishes get their special holiday status often because of a pun. For example, eating fish is important because the word fish is similar to “surplus” or “extra” (hoping for a surplus in the upcoming spring harvest) and certain other foods have names which sound similar to “good fortune” and “get rich” (Thank you, intro Mandarin in college for teaching me this!)
I’m no Asian or #taiwanese cultural expert here. I just want to wish you Happy New Year!