Asian and Asian American Artists on Celebrating Lunar New Year

Asian and Asian American Artists on Celebrating Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is the single most important date on the calendar for billions of people in East and Southeast Asia, including China, South Korea, and Vietnam. Observed this year on January 22, it marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring, with families journeying to their hometowns for weeks of festivities.

With over 18 million Americans of Asian descent, the holiday — called Chūnjié in Mandarin, Seollal in Korean and Tết in Vietnamese — is celebrated in the United States as well as globally. And though it’s not officially observed in most Western countries, many in the Asian diaspora keep their heritage alive through traditional foods and rituals. Often, it’s the only tangible connection to culture we have in terms of a true celebration.

As we prepare to ring in the Year of the Rabbit (or of the Cat, if you’re Vietnamese), PAPER caught up with some of our favorite Asian artists and creators from around the world to hear what the holiday means to them — and how they plan to celebrate.

Lexie Liu, singer

Growing up in China, Chinese New Year is THE New Year for families to get together and celebrate with gourmet food, beautiful blessings and red packets. Ever since my parents divorced, I haven’t found a good way to attend both of their family dinners in New Year because they are in different cities, but this year we are all celebrating in the same city so I can finally be there for both of the families.

The foods I loved are Fried Stinky Tofu with lots of spicy radish from Changsha Hunan. I need it in my holiday life. For the Year of the Rabbit, I wish I can eat more vegetables than a rabbit. (I probably do already.) Also, I wanna be as energetic as one, too.

Ruoyi Jiang, founder of Chop Suey Club

Lunar New Year has always been about family time, relatives getting together and gossip. It means a BIG dinner together, endless amounts of food, giving and receiving red envelopes, watching a national TV program while poking fun at it, and enjoying the fireworks.

The past many years I haven't been able to go back home for LNY, so this holiday for me is about celebrating with our chosen family. We are throwing a big party on Jan 21st (LNY Eve)! I do this type of parties because many people like me cannot be home to celebrate with their families. This time we wanna bring street food like skewers into the mix with soup dumplings. My favorite food for the season is 糖葫芦 tanghulu (candid hawthorn stick), it's not a LNY food per se but it's a Beijing winter specialty.

My family is very small (just me and my mom), so we normally go to someone else's house for this holiday. My favorite memory is getting dressed with my mom, she would criticize my fashion while trying to have color-coordinated outfits with me. My wish for this year is that China can return to normalcy soon, so my mom and I can resume our annual trip together. I haven't seen her for three years now.

​Twaydabae​, chef and influencer

Lunar New Year has always been about spending time with family & celebrating traditions to me. It's a time to reflect, wish each other well and set intentions for the future. I plan to celebrate with my family: It's going to be a big get-together this year and I'm really looking forward to having my mom's thit kho and my Stepdad's pho.

My favorite memory of Lunar New Year in my home would have to be the games that are played, especially the dice game aka the Bau Cua Ca dice game. And my wish for this year is to welcome more peace into my life and to practice mindfulness in everything I do.

Eden, producer

Photo by Alex Waespi

Growing up in Ireland, Lunar New Year always felt like a nice family ritual — there was never much notice of it in the world outside. My biggest memory is of red envelopes. My granny would give them out to us on New Year’s and it always made it feel like a special time. I actually keep them in my house now and use them sometimes when gifting things to my friends. This year, I will be on tour somewhere in Texas doing my best to find some dim sum.

Kim Nguyen, founder of Nguyen Inc

Sometimes I go back home to Houston to celebrate with my immediate family but this year I’m staying in NY and planning on cooking with my friend SK Lyons at their home. Both of us have never cooked pho before so we are going to attempt my mom's recipe. I love literally everything my mom cooks. She is hands-down the best chef I know!

Memories that immediately come to mind from when I was younger are playing bầu cua tôm cá with my uncles and cousins (because I was very lucky and always won a lot of money), cleaning every inch of our house before the festivities and playing hide and seek with all my cousins with back-to-back episodes of Paris by Night blaring from the TV in the living room.

I read somewhere that this year's water rabbit (or cat) is supposed to be the year of hope, so I'd like to keep that in mind throughout the year.

Thuy, singer

Photo by Brandon Lee Davis

Lunar New Year means family and tradition to me. It means being able to ring in a new year with the people who mean the most and enjoy traditions that have been passed down for decades together. I plan to celebrate by being surrounded by close and extended family. I want to be in conversation with family about our past and future plans while enjoying all the delicacies and treats! I especially love bánh tét!

My favorite memory is staying up until midnight to light the fireworks! It was so much fun and we didn’t have to clean up the mess. We would leave the red residue all on our front porch for weeks. The only thing that scared me was how loud they were as a kid! My wish is to live peacefully and wholeheartedly. I want to continue doing what I love and enjoy every moment of it.

Alex Porat, singer

Photo by Patrick Ryder

I’m going to spend most of my Lunar New Year days with my family. We’re going to eat a lot of food, especially Tang Yuan, which is my favorite dessert on this earth. I’ll probably also do a lot of cleaning and potentially rearranging of furniture so that I can have a new perspective in my living space as I turn into a new year. This might be pretty silly, but in general, I like moving furniture around way too much.

My favorite memory is from whenever I was in Asia as a kid celebrating. Every time I was there around Lunar New Year I would see all my relatives and it was always such a big celebration. Now, living and growing up in North America, it’s such a different experience but I still have such a great community here of friends and family that celebrate. So there are a lot more memories yet to be made.

Su Lee, musician and podcaster

Photo by Sela Shiloni

Koreans eat a lot of savory pancakes on Lunar New Year and my favorite is Mom’s specialty potato pancake that she makes at home. (Speaking of which, I would probably ask her to make some in advance before I leave Korea.)

When I was in kindergarten, my grandpa would take me on a ride in his car and buy me toys whenever my family visited him for the holidays. I remember he always had a picture of me stuck by the front seat. This was a very long time ago and yet I still remember it all so clearly. I miss my grandpa a lot whenever I look back on this.

One of my biggest wishes for this year was that my sister would pass her nursing exam. And this one has come true already – she passed! I hope this means I’ll have my other wishes come true. I hope I can go on tour again and maybe even be able to play at some festivals this year! I also hope I can get to meet and pet more cats this year.

Samantha Tan, race car driver and team owner

Lunar New Year is similar to [Western] New Year’s celebrations at the end of the year. It’s about celebrating the next cycle and next rotation in the Zodiac, family gatherings and wishing for health and prosperity for the years to come. Honestly, after growing up in a small Canadian town, Lunar New Year celebrations felt like one of the only times I got to experience something from my culture, so it allowed me to connect with my heritage. Today, it’s a celebration that reminds me to be proud of who I am and where I came from.

This year, I am spending my Lunar New Year with my mom’s side of the family. My grandparents are planning a big dinner with all our favorite foods, complete with noodles, lots of dumplings, steamed fish and nian gao! Sometimes, when the whole family is able to get together in Toronto, we’ll go out to a restaurant and my favorite dish has always been the Peking duck with pancakes.

Dolly Ave, singer

Lunar New Year always gives me fond memories with my family. It’s a celebration of a new chapter and a special occasion to be with your loved ones and take in all the blessings and future blessings the year may off you.

I’ll be performing for the Vietnamese community here in California at a Lunar New Year festival. For me, that’s a special moment to bring to people music to dance to and celebrate to. I love sharing a big Vietnamese spread but specifically the large roasted pig that is commonly eaten during this time. My favorite memory is taking our red envelopes and, in good fun, playing games for each other's money.

Photos courtesy of the artists