Residents ring in Chinese New Year with good luck traditions

Jan. 23, 2012 at 9 p.m.
Updated Jan. 22, 2012 at 7:23 p.m.

From left: Kyle Yang, 8; Lisa Du, 6; Isaac Lu, 8; and Antonio Martinez, 8, laugh at a slideshow of funny pictures during a Chinese New Year celebration Saturday at Northside Baptist Church. The celebration was held at the church because of its large Chinese congregation. Go online to see video.

From left: Kyle Yang, 8; Lisa Du, 6; Isaac Lu, 8; and Antonio Martinez, 8, laugh at a slideshow of funny pictures during a Chinese New Year celebration Saturday at Northside Baptist Church. The celebration was held at the church because of its large Chinese congregation. Go online to see video.

There is just one thing that Jason Bao misses more than spending time with his family and girlfriend at this time of year - his mother's dumplings.

"It's hard," Bao, 22, said jokingly. "I really like them."

Dumplings are a staple food in his and millions of other families' Chinese New Year celebrations.

Monday marked the first day of the new year, festivities for which will end on Feb. 6.

2012 marks the 4710th Chinese New Year.

According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, this is the Year Of The Dragon, which symbolizes power, strength, success, happiness and good luck.

Likened to American holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, the Chinese New Year is considered to be a time to honor ancestors, heavenly deities and families, as well as organize family gatherings and grand feasts.

Despite being called the Chinese New Year, the annual holiday is also celebrated by many other Asian cultures including Koreans, Malaysians, Vietnamese, Thai and Singaporean.

While many families in Asian countries will ring in the new year with fireworks, feasting, visiting temples, watching street performances and partaking in family reunions, Bao and his co-workers at Victoria's Grand Buffet held their own special celebration after work on Sunday night.

Seated around dark mahogany tables pushed together to form one long dining table, Bao and his co-workers took off their aprons and hair nets and shared drinks, laughs and a feast to ring in the new year.

"It's the traditional way to celebrate. It doesn't matter where you are," said Julie Li, owner of Grand Buffet. "It's a big day for Chinese people."

Li said many of the homesick employees do not have family in the area, or in the country for that matter, so they celebrated the holiday as a work family.

"We want to thank everybody for working so hard," said Li, 30. "We are a big family here."

For the last 10 years, members of Northside Baptist Church have also hosted their own New Year's Eve celebration complete with a dinner, guest speaker, games and fellowship, said church member Gh Shu,

"All the families can come here and sit and have dinner together," said church member Alan Lin, 52. "Everybody can feel like we are back in Taiwan. "

During each of the 15 days of the new year celebration, celebrants are expected to adhere to traditional beliefs that symbolize themes such as wealth, happiness and good fortune.

On the first day, celebrants are expected to spend the day with their families and adorn themselves with all new things from a new hairstyle and clothes to even a new pair of eyeglasses and jewelry.

They are also encouraged to wear red for good luck, said Andy Lu, 42, a member at Northside Baptist Church.

Meanwhile, on day two, wives are expected to visit relatives and close friends, as traditionally, married daughters did not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.

Other traditions during the celebration period include not socializing or visiting relatives and friends on day three; re-opening businesses on day six; hosting a lunch or dinner for employees on day eight to thank them for their hard work; eating a vegetarian menu on day 13 to cleanse stomachs of all the food consumed over the last two weeks; and seeking a love partner on day 15 by having single women write their contact numbers on mandarin oranges and throw them into a river so men can collect them and eat them.

Participants also shoot fireworks; they walk through the streets carrying lanterns and lit candles outside their homes; they clean their house to sweep away ill-fortune; they decorate windows and doors with themed red couplets; they avoid unnecessary cutting; they eat hard candy for luck; and they give money to employees and children in red paper envelopes for good luck and wealth.

"I remember when I was little, this was the most happiest day of the year," Li said jokingly about receiving the red envelope with cash. "(My son) doesn't really get the whole idea. He just wants to get the red envelope."

Food eaten throughout the celebration to bring good luck includes pork, duck, chicken, mustard greens, seafood, desserts, Tsigtao - Chinese beer, jellyfish and hot pots.

Participants said they do run into the occasional hang up while trying to celebrate the holiday in America.

"The boss doesn't know it's the Chinese New Year," said Lu, when asked whether he takes off from work since businesses do not close here for the holiday.

Area participants are grateful for the chance to celebrate locally.

"It's a happy new year. We can drink and eat together like a family," said Bao, a server at Grand Buffet, who has been in Victoria for the last seven months. "I'm Chinese, I like my country and our Chinese people. Now, I live in America and I think of them as my family."

Ling Jun Xiao, 21, expressed similar sentiments.

"I miss my family. It's different with family," said Xiao, also a server at Grand Buffet. "But here I get the feeling of being with family."

For the new year, Xiao, who has been in Victoria for the last five months, said he has made the resolution to take steps toward getting a degree in mechanical engineering.

The celebration at Grand Buffet also was enjoyed by non-Chinese participants.

Carl and Mary Harris, who are white, attended the celebration as guests of their daughter Sierra Harris, an employee of the restaurant.

The couple said they tried to brush up on their knowledge of the holiday and Chinese culture via Wikipedia and the Chinese Network prior to their arrival at Grand Buffet.

"Doing something with a different culture, I think it's something all people need to do," said Harris, 61. "Our New Year is not as festive and not as family-oriented."

"Working with them, I've learned it is a very interesting culture with very interesting people," said Sierra Harris, 17. "I learn something new every day."

Older participants expressed a desire to pass the traditions on to the youth.

"To the bone, you are still Chinese," said Lu. "We need to teach them the traditions."

Li expressed the same hope for her 7-year-old son.

"When he grows up and gets married, he can pass it on to the next generation," said Li.



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