February 10th is the beginning of a week-long celebration—the Lunar New Year! Also known as the Spring Festival, this annual holiday ends with a bang on Lantern Day (literally, with fireworks!); marked with reds and golds, casting out evil spirits, lion and dragon dances in parades, eating tasty and symbolic dishes, honoring and worshiping ancestors, and welcoming in the new year with wishes of prosperity and good health. Westlake Porter Public Library has a bounty of wonderful and diverse picture books about Lunar New Year, and the dishes shared during the celebrations, and I’ve listed some of them down below!
Yum… food! The Lunar New Year is celebrated across all Asian countries with Chinese populations and each culture adds a unique addition or flavor to the celebration’s menu. Most of the mainstay dishes have symbolic importance to the holiday. Nian gao, or sweet rice cakes, sound like “higher up year” when spoken in Chinese and are believed to bring in higher success in the upcoming year; eating a whole chicken, without leftovers to spare, is to represent the whole family coming together for the celebrations; jiaozi, or dumplings, are formed to appear like ancient gold and silver Chinese pieces used as currency, consuming the dumplings during the Lunar New Year promotes prosperity. Tangerines and oranges are contributed to good fortune, candies bring in a sweet year, spring rolls represent gold bars and are meant to bring in wealth, and eating longevity noodles are symbols of a long life. (According to this article.) Anyone else feeling hungry? Alongside all the offerings we have on Lunar New Year, here’s some of our picture books sharing these yummy dishes, with recipes to try at home!
Mythology also plays a key role in the Lunar New Year celebrations; Chinese Zodiac animals are contributed to those born in a certain year over a twelve-year cycle. Quoting The 12 Chinese Astrology Signs and What They Mean for You by Taylor Markarian; “… the 12 animals are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The order of the Chinese astrological signs is related to the most commonly accepted legend of the Chinese zodiac: the Jade Emperor’s Race. As the story goes, the Chinese emperor held a race to determine which lucky animals would have the honor of being added to the calendar. The first-place winner—who ended up being the Rat—would claim the first year of the 12-year cycle, and so on.” Each animal is assigned a set of traits, which is reflected onto those born within the year, similar to the Western Astrological Zodiac signs. 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, the only mythological animal in the Zodiac!
Multicultural families may find it harder to combine traditions and celebrations, especially when it comes to very different holidays that celebrate very similar things. Because of this complexity, I really enjoyed seeing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, represented alongside the Chinese Lunar New Year in Two New Years by Richard Ho, with both holidays portrayed with immense care and respect. According to the synopsis; “For this multicultural family, inspired by the author’s own, two New Years mean twice as much to celebrate! In the fall, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, offers an opportunity to bake challah, dip apples in honey, and lift voices in song. In the spring, Lunar New Year brings a chance to eat dumplings, watch dragon dances, and release glowing lanterns that light up the sky.”
No matter how your family celebrates the Lunar New Year, WPPL hopes you find plentiful amounts of prosperity, happiness and the best of luck in this next chapter in your life!