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How and where to celebrate Chinese New Year’s

Hey all! Even though it is now the year of the sheep, many of you may or may not be aware of how or even where to celebrate Lunar New Year, in particular (for this blog), Chinese New Year’s, so I’m going to help by giving you some tips on how to do it.

Despite being a 15-day celebration, many people do not celebrate all 15 days of Chinese New Year; usually they celebrate during one of the days, which is usually the weekend because there is no time off given in the U.S. for this holiday and many people are busy with work or school. In China, people usually get a week off to celebrate.

Chinese New Year, a centuries old holiday that is 15 days long, is a part of Lunar New Year and is known as “Spring Festival” when translated directly from Mandarin. It is still one of the most important economic and social holidays celebrated in China.

Other countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, and Mongolia celebrate Lunar New Year on the same day as China and other countries with a large population of Chinese people but with their own cultural modifications.

The Lunar New Year usually falls in between Jan 21 and Feb 20. Each year is represented by one of 12 animals of the zodiac (snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon) in a 12 year cycle. To find out which animal represents the year you were born in, click here. BuzzFeed also has a video that could help.

As for what people do on Chinese New Year’s, basically, we just eat a lot and give a lot. There are multiple ways to celebrate it.

Usually the feasts could be home-cooked or done in a restaurant. If you are not into cooking but want the convenience, some good local restaurants include Great China (Berkeley), Shandong Restaurant (Oakland), Flower Lounge (Oakland), Becky’s Chinese Restaurant (North Oakland), and if you want to venture into San Francisco, Z & Y Restaurant is a great place. There are definitely more places but those are some examples.

The feasts usually consist of a whole chicken or duck, dumplings (pork dumpling recipe here), taro cakes (vegan version available here), rice cakes (known as nian gao, which are vegetarian-friendly), mustard greens, oranges, and Buddha’s delight which is vegetarian-friendly. Each group of people has their own pick of what foods they eat on this holiday but these are some commonly-seen ones. LA Weekly has some suggestions on the essential Chinese New Year dishes as well.

Roasted duck,  a common Chinese New Year dish. Photo from KQED.
Roasted duck, a common Chinese New Year dish. Photo from KQED
Another common dish, taro cake. Photo from Christine's Recipes
Another common dish, taro cake. Photo from Christine’s Recipes
Vegetarian-friendly Buddha's delight is a dish you may see served. Photo from
Vegetarian-friendly Buddha’s delight is a dish you may see served. Photo from

If you are short on money or are in the mood to cook something up, go ahead. However, it is suggested that for the whole chicken or duck, you go out and buy it since it is very difficult to make. There are plenty of places in the area such as Asian supermarkets (i.e. 99 Ranch) and Chinatown that sell it. The vegetable dishes such as Buddha’s delight and mustard greens are relatively easy to make, though the technique may be hard to get at first but here are a few pointers on how to cook Chinese greens. Otherwise, the easiest way to partake in the food tradition is go out and buy some oranges and the traditional candies (i.e. Lucky candy). Even putting out your favorite candy in a bowl works too.

There are also some traditions that come with Chinese New Year such as the red envelope which are usually passed out by married couples or the elderly to unmarried individuals and children. The red envelope contains money which can range from a few cents to several hundred dollars but in even numbers since odd numbers are viewed as bad luck. They are available for purchase on Amazon.

One example of what the red envelope looks like. Photo from Thirsty for Tea
One example of what the red envelope looks like. Photo from Thirsty for Tea

Chinese New Year’s also has traditions that include wearing new clothes, decorating the house with red and gold, and tidying up one’s living space to “sweep out” the bad luck for some good luck.

Even though there are multiple traditions in Chinese New Year’s, here are some ways you too can celebrate, adapted from this website!

As a start, you could view the cleaning as an early start to spring cleaning, the new clothes as a good excuse to go shopping, and you could hang a paper lantern or even red and yellow streamers around the house to get the decorations going. Amazon sells paper lanterns too or even better, make one yourself. If you aren’t in the mood to go shopping for new clothes, you could wear something you don’t wear that often.

Red paper lanterns, a common decoration used. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Red paper lanterns, a common decoration used. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

If you have time to trek to San Francisco or Oakland Chinatown, their Chinese New Year’s parade (usually on the weekend) is worth going to. Go watch a dragon or lion dance, as those animals symbolize strength and ferocity needed to drive the bad spirits away. There will also be fireworks at night. Otherwise, you could watch a dragon or lion dance video on YouTube.

So whatever you plan to do, make sure you make it yours and you know the cultural significance of the Lunar New Year. 新年快乐! (Romanized: Xing Nian Kuai Le! Translation: “Happy New Year!”)