By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly
For many people who grew up in an Asian American household, the Lunar New Year was always celebrated, whether by going out to a restaurant or watching the annual parade. Despite many cultural differences, the collective wishes and hopes for a community bubbles up during this time of the year.
Trying to explain it to someone who has never experienced or celebrated it can be difficult. Still, this year, represented by the tiger, we can strive to bring Lunar New Year to everyone. We can contemporize it by putting a new spin on fun traditions, building a bridge with people who’ve grown up with this celebration to those who are experiencing it for the first or second time.
A big party is often the lynchpin of the Lunar New Year celebration, which is why the International District is busy during these 15 days of the year. Obviously, people will have to plan ahead accordingly, though hosting something at home with fresh takes on traditional food and décor is a good place to start.
Lanterns, which are often used on the 15th day, cannot simply be replaced with Christmas lights. Blank lanterns can be purchased at many stores and decorated accordingly to include various floral patterns, such as plum blossoms or chrysanthemums, which symbolize luck and longevity, respectively. Consider using dried flowers that can be pressed in a heavy book.
The experience of crafting and creating décor together can provide a sense of unity.
Food is also an important element for celebrating the New Year. More times than not, many families and friends will either find themselves at a restaurant or preparing large family-style dishes. An easier and less stressful way to take part in this celebration is to prepare smaller food items with a bit of a twist.
For example, mandarin oranges are a staple of the Chinese New Year. Baking something like mandarin orange-inspired cupcakes would be a good way to include a bit of Western culture in a Lunar New Year celebration. Even a regular orange cupcake, using small slices of mandarin orange as a garnish, would be a nod to this tradition.
Noodles, which are indicative of longevity and life, are served during the meals. Luckily, many Asian meals make good use of noodles, from the Filipino pansit to the Japanese yakisoba.
Buddha’s Delight is a vegetarian dish that is served on the eve and the first day of the New Year. For something a little bolder, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to prepare vegan fish dishes for the eve of the New Year as well.
While fish itself is a constant food in any Asian meal, a vegan or vegetarian substitute can be made by simply using seitan (a wheat gluten product) or tempeh (a soybean cake). The latter would lend itself better to a fish meal, but it does offer something a little bit different, in addition to the Buddha’s Delight.
The key component is to enjoy the time that you have with your friends and family, and to appreciate this special time of the year. While at times it may seem that the Lunar New Year is overshadowed by the droves of tourists and partygoers outside Seattle Center, nothing can replace the significance and strict traditions that help people make a new start — even if those traditions need a little dusting off from time to time. ♦
Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at email@example.com.