lunar new year

Celebrating the Lunar New Year in Chicago

Published on February 9, 2022

Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the largest in North America, so naturally they put on a memorable event and parade for Lunar New Year.  It all kicks off from the intersection of 24th Street and Wentworth at 1pm on February 13th.

Also known as Spring Festival, it’s the most important festival in China and many other Asian countries.  The whole celebration lasts for about two weeks and is intended to welcome the new year with luck and prosperity, while seeing the old year out. 

Originally, Lunar New Year started as a time for people to pray for next year’s harvest to be plentiful.  Today praying is still important, but more for remembering ancestors.  During the Zhou Dynasty, a myth took hold of people’s imaginations about a frightening beast named Nian. 

According to the legend, Nian was responsible for eating livestock, crops and sometimes even people.  In an attempt to satisfy the beast, people began leaving offerings of food.  And because they had heard that Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises, people began lighting Bamboo in the hopes that the crackling sound would scare the beast away.  At the same time they began decorating their doors and windows with red lanterns and scrolls. 

A modern tradition

Today, as part of Lunar New Year celebrations, you’ll see some of the same activities.  Food offerings are given at the entrances to businesses and restaurants in the commercial district of Chinatown.  Dragon and Lion dancers perform with the goal of bringing prosperity and good luck. They also ceremoniously “eat” the offerings of food.  Strips of firecrackers are lit in a nod to keeping evil spirits at bay.  And, red is plentiful to spread good luck, good fortune, vitality and happiness. 

Another tradition for Chinese New Year is to eat foods that bring luck.  Popular dishes for Lunar New Year include:

  • Fish–because the Chinese word for fish sounds like surplus
  • Rice Cakes for higher income
  • Spring rolls for wealth
  • Sweet rice balls for family togetherness
  • Oranges and tangerines for fullness and wealth
  • Dumplings also represent wealth, with the idea that the more you can eat, the more money you will make in the near year. 
  • Longevity Noodles for a long and happy lifetime time—just don’t forget to slurp the noodles!
lunar new year

Traditional treats

While in Chinatown, we recommend that you stop by Ken Kee and try their delicious hand-made Cart Noodles. You can fill up on dumplings at Dim Sum at Phoenix RestaurantJust be sure to arrive early as the line queues up quickly. And just a few blocks away is the Chi Quon Bakery, a traditional Chinese bakery from 1986 where you can pick up Asian pastries like pork buns, almond cookies, and our favorites… sesame balls. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn and celebrate one of the most important and ancient traditions of the world.  And may the Year of the Tiger bestow blessing of health, happiness and wealth upon you and yours.

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