Make room for pig!

Lunar new year is upon us, so here’s some info on the age-old holiday


Jessica Berton

The year of 2019 is the year of the pig, one of twelve animal zodiacs in the lunar calendar.

Sarah Sabawi and Jazzy Nguyen

It’s the year of the pig, which began Feb. 5, and Asians are partying like it’s the year 4717.

Lunar new year celebrations are thousands of years old, and many take part in old traditions that date back before the Gregorian calendar to ensure luck for the coming year. However, in the Bay Area, celebrants have to adjust by cutting time short for traditions, making it harder to celebrate the new year in an entirely traditional sense.

Most Asian countries will have days, weeks, or even a month off in order to prepare for and participate in the holiday’s many traditions. But in America, days off are not provided, making it difficult for Asian-Americans to enjoy these activities fully and as originally intended.

Mandarin teacher Linda Chen has noticed that the main difference in celebrating lunar new year in China and the U.S. is the time.

“We can only get together for maybe four hours from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and then we have to get ready for work the next day,” Chen says. According to her, the lack of days off makes celebrating the holiday shorter and more rushed.

Most families in the U.S. utilize their time during the weekend or take time off during the week in order to celebrate the holiday. They might go to temple or attend various celebrations held in cities nearby, such as San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade. However, certain traditions remain similar between Asian countries and the Bay Area.

One important bridge between the way the new year is celebrated in Asia and in the U.S. is food.

“We have to eat dumplings. We have fish and all kinds of meat and vegetables,” says freshman Ella Wang. In Chinese culture, fish represents prosperity and good luck.

Other foods that Chinese people eat during the lunar new year include Nian gao, a glutinous rice flour cake most commonly eaten for the new year, and lo bak go, or turnip cake, which is a type of dim sum made from shredded radish and rice flour.

In Vietnam, pork, duck, and noodles are served. For Vietnamese lunar new year, also called Tet, food is an important part of the celebration because to celebrate is to “an Tet”, or eat Tet. Banh chung and banh tet are also dishes served specifically for the holiday, and the process of wrapping sticky rice and bean filling with dong leaves can take days.

After dinner, children often engage in traditional games and gambling. One such popular Vietnamese game is called Bau cua ca cop.

“All the children get some quarters,” says freshman Denise Le, “and we bet and play the game and end up getting a bit more money.”

In this game, a board and a die with corresponding pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a gourd, and a stag are used. Players bet what item the die will roll and profit if their guesses are correct.

In Asia, popular lunar new year activities also include praying at temples and attending festivals.

“In Vietnam, they would set off a lot of firecrackers and there’d be huge parades on the streets. It was like, a source of entertainment back then,” recalls Le. “It lasted seven days.”

Those who participate in the holiday wear new red and gold clothes at this time, both in Asia and America. The colors red and gold symbolize happiness and luck, and buying new clothes symbolizes a fresh start for the new year.

There is another trademark of lunar new year that everybody can partake in: red envelopes. Usually containing money, these envelopes are given as gifts from the grandparents to the children of the family and represent good fortune.

“My mom and dad will sit somewhere. All the grandkids will bow to them and say ‘Congratulations for the new year, give me the red envelope’, and there’s money inside,” says Chen. “So after the meal, the grandparents will sit there and wait for the kids to bow and then give money out.”