Thursday was the Chinese New Year. For centuries now, this tradition has been celebrated on days between January 21st and February 20th, depending on the year. In Austin, the new year will be celebrated on Sunday, February 6 at the Chinatown Center at 11am. Here’s our interview with Cindy Y. Lo, spokesman for the event.
Observer: Tell me more about how you celebrate the Chinese New Year?
Lo: The traditions usually include a dragon and lion dance and firecrackers. The firecrackers symbolize scaring away evil spirits. The lion and dragon dance which are performed by martial artists symbolize money. A cabbage will be hanging from above and grabbed by the dancers, then eaten by the dragon, and spat back out to the crowd, symbolizing the spread of wealth to everyone. This is how Chinese New Year is getting kicked off. This exactly what we’re doing at the Chinatown Center this year. We’re keeping it to the tradition.
O: I remember receiving some red envelopes from some Chinese or Vietnamese friends years back, what exactly does this mean?
L: The red envelopes are called ‘lucky-money’ and this comes into the personal side of the tradition. During the new year, you’re hoping for prosperity and to spread prosperity amongst your friends and family. This is why you give those around and receive them. The elders give them to the youth.
O: What does this celebration mean to you personally?
L: It’s a new beginning, a great way to start off the lunar new year, and helps me aim for prosperity and good health. We get together as a family do a formal banquet dinner, including special dishes you eat around that time. The things we eat symbolize health, prosperity or fertility. Remember everything in this celebration is symbolic.
O: How have these traditions changed since they have arrived in the United States and more specifically in Texas?
L: One obvious change is the fact that Chinese people living in the United States won’t get a day off to celebrate. Since it isn’t recognized as a national holiday for the US, the two weeks that are given in China aren’t seen here. Another difference is that you won’t see as many people celebrating here. In China and in Hong Kong, it’s a big thing and you will even clean your house the day before new year, open your windows and let the luck and prosperity come into the house. We have Americanized the tradition for sure.
O: How is this celebration important to Chinese people in Texas? Will many people be attending the event?
L: Oh yes, tons of people. I think it’s significant because it brings the Asian community together, also it’s a good way for others to peek into our culture and learn more about our traditions.
O: How has the Lunar New Year’s celebration changed over the years in Austin? Has there been a clear evolution?
L: First of all, our Asian community has grown considerably over the last couple of years which means you will see more restaurants open up, the Chinatown Center is growing also. Second of all, more and more people are curious and want to learn about what’s going on in the center. The lion and dragon dancers are usually very busy all along the year and I get many requests from people. Also, I get support from the Asian community, and I want people to understand this is for everyone and that there is more to Asian culture than just the food (laughs).