Wanxia Lu and Yulin Xu were a long way from home. They had come to New York from Wuhan and Beijing respectively to earn their Masters in Tourism at NYU. They had been my students but, truth be told, I learned as much from them as they did from me: they graduated in January 2015.
Chinese New Year–aka Lunar New Year and Spring Festival— begins February 8th. It’s the Year of the Monkey. When Wanxia and Yulin came up to the New York Natives office for lunch one day, we asked how and where they would celebrate, and how New Yorkers could participate in the festivities. Their faces lit up, as they generously and enthusiastically offered to share their native intelligence in helping to provide the most authentic experience possible. Here’s what we learned…
Symbolism. Symbolism. Symbolism…in words, numbers, decorations, foods, colors, shapes, activities: There is such a wealth of fascinating information that it would take volumes to do it justice. So we have selected what’s most realistically achievable. Wanxia and Yulin tell us, the New World Mall in Flushing’s Chinatown is definitely the place to go for the most authentic Chinese New Year’s foods and decorations.
Between the Food Court on the lower level, the 30,500 sq. ft. J-Mart Supermarket, and all of the other shops and restaurants, you can welcome in The Year of The Horse and participate in the celebrations.
Spring Festival is all about Dumplings (Jiaozi): Traditionally, Chinese families gather together on New Year’s Eve to make dumplings. Shaped like ancient gold coins and silver ingots, dumplings symbolize wealth and good fortune. Often, a coin will be hidden in one dumpling–the person who finds it is said to expect even greater wealth and good fortune. Wanxia and friends will gather at Yulin’s apartment to make their dumplings from scratch…like family.
You can eat your dumplings freshly made at Zhou Mian Xuan or Yu Jio Zi in the Food Court or buy them frozen at J-Mart and boil them at home (we did, and they are absolutely delicious).
Dong Wang Chao (East Buffet) Restaurant specializes in Chinese New Year’s Eve Family Dinner.
The color Red symbolizes good luck and is said to ward off evil spirits. Wanxia and Yulin tell us, “red is auspicious, symbolizing good fortune, happiness and joy. Therefore, the gifts exchanged during Spring Festival, as well as many of the decorations are red.”
Red lanterns, poetic couplet banners, Chinese knots and money envelopes are easily found in the Mall and shops in the surrounding area.
So, if you really want to embrace the spirit of Chinese New Year and make it your own, consider the following:
Thoroughly clean the house in order to get rid of bad fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.
Decorate windows and doors with Chinese red knots, lanterns and red paper couplets with popular themes of good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.
Give the gift of money in traditional red envelopes.
Under the heading of “good to know” and well worth noting this Lunar New Year:
Serving a whole chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolizes completeness.
Serving fresh tofu is unlucky since the milky-white color signifies death and misfortune.
Fresh fruit symbolizes life and new beginnings.
Candied fruits are said to sweeten the upcoming year.
To provide a sweet beginning to the New Year, symbolic items like candied and fresh fruit are served on a round or octagonal tray to symbolize togetherness. Aptly called Tray of Togetherness, 8 items must be offered, since it is a lucky number that symbolizes good fortune.
To our good friends Wanxia and Yulin we say “thank you” for sharing your time, energy and knowledge. New York Natives wishes all who celebrate Chinese New Year…
“Gong Hei Fard Choy” (Cantonese) & “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (Mandarin)