Lunar New Year 2022: Houston's Asian American community dives deeper on traditions

ByRosie Nguyen KTRK logo
Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Lunar New Year 2022: Details on the Asian holiday with ABC13 Race & Culture reporter Rosie Nguyen
ABC13's Race & Culture reporter Rosie Nguyen speaks with Houston's Asian American community about traditions for the Lunar New Year.

HOUSTON, Texas -- Feb. 1 kicks off the Year of the Tiger for approximately 1.5 billion people, who are celebrating Lunar New Year across the world.

RELATED: Lunar New Year 2022: What to know about the traditions and celebration for the year of the Tiger

We know the occasion is typically showcased through cultural clothing, food, dancing, games, and more. But there are details that are not commonly known about the holiday. Houston's Asian American community spoke with ABC13's Race and Culture reporter Rosie Nguyen to give us a better insight into Asian traditions.

Why is Lunar New Year on a different date every year?

"Right now, we use the Gregorian calendar, which is a calendar based on the movement of the sun. The lunar calendar is premised on the movement of the moon. Hence the name, lunar calendar," said H.C. Chang, chapter president of OCA Greater Houston. "A lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a solar year. We have 365 days a year, but in a lunar year, there's about 354 days a year."

Other than Lunar New Year, is the lunar calendar used for anything else throughout the year?

"We typically do memorials for the death anniversaries of our ancestors, especially grandparents and great-grandparents according to the lunar calendar. So I always have to be careful calculating it, because it'll change in our everyday calendar each year," said Thu Nguyen, executive director of OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates.

"The lunar calendar is traditionally used for agricultural functions. Farming is one of the largest industries in East and Southeast Asian societies. So a lot of farmers rely on this calendar to determine when to plant crops and when they should expect rain or drought," said Chang.

"In Korea, many holidays are celebrated based on the Lunar calendar. The biggest holiday among them is Chuseok, which falls on the fifth day of August of the Lunar calendar. It's like Thanksgiving in America," said Jin Lee, an instructor at the Houston Korean Education Center.

What other countries celebrate Lunar New Year besides China?

"Vietnamese and Korean people also celebrate it. Some Chinese Singaporean and Chinese Malaysian people as well," said Mei Li, the culture and fund development director for the Chinese Community Center.

Are there any differences in the way some of these cultures celebrate?

"In the Vietnamese culture, we have different foods like bánh chng and bánh tét, which is glutinous sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. But in China, they'll eat dumplings and noodles for longevity and so that's not typically done in Vietnam," said Thu Nguyen.

"In the Koreas, folks will eat the sticky rice cakes quite a bit. In Vietnam, traditionally, people will break off a tree branch, because that symbolizes an act of growth, as well as good fortune," said Chang.

Are the zodiac animals the same in every culture or are there slight variations?

"In the Chinese calendar, there is a rabbit as one of the zodiac animals. As I understand, the Vietnamese New Year uses a cat instead of a rabbit. Both are adorable animals," said Chang.

"In China, one of the zodiac animals is an ox. But in Vietnam, it's a buffalo. There's also a slight variation with the pig, where it will be called the boar instead," said Alice Lee, the executive director for Southwest Management District.

Is your zodiac year considered good or bad luck for you?

"It's a year for caution. People like to exercise extreme caution when it's their zodiac year," said Thu Nguyen.

"It's a year when someone should pay close attention to one's fortune, health, and things in general," said Chang.

"It can be extremely bad or extremely good. If it's bad, we have a way to remedy it. Just wear lots of red, because red is seen as a very positive color for the Chinese and people who follow the lunar calendar," said Li.

"I would say there will be a lot of challenge for that person during their zodiac year. But it's nothing they can't overcome. I strongly believe that whatever situation comes to you, you have the power within yourself to really cope with it," said Dr. Anhlan Nguyen, executive director for Lyceum Global.

What is the criteria for lucky money given out in red/white envelopes? Who gets them? Who gives them?

"You typically would receive a red envelope from someone a generation or two older than you such as your parents, from your uncle, from your aunts, from your grandparents, etc.," said Chang.

"There's no defined age. It changes with each family. But I would say when you start to earn money, such as when you've graduated from school, started working, and are earning money, you should probably start giving instead of receiving," said Li. "Another scenario is after you get married."

"Lucky money is typically passed on from elders to their children and unmarried people. So if you're single and you're 50 years old, you could still receive lucky month," said Alice Lee.

"Regardless of how old you are, you can always receive a red envelope from someone older than you are," said Dr. Anhlan Nguyen.

ABC13's Race & Culture reporter Rosie Nguyen speaks with Houston's Asian American community about traditions for the Lunar New Year.

What are some superstitions or taboos surrounding Lunar New Year?

"You should get your haircut or your manicure/pedicure before Lunar New Year. It's not something you should do during the first two weeks of the New Year. Everything is around your health, wealth, and safety. So you don't want to cut any of that away," said Thu Nguyen.

"You don't want to schedule any of your doctor's appointments on the first day of the New Year, unless it's an emergency, of course. You want everything to be positive," said Li. "In my culture and region where I grew up, what's funny is we believe you can't say 'no' to people during the first three days of the New Year. So as a kid, I would always take advantage of that and ask my mom for things like candy."

"You'll hear a lot of firecracker noises, because that is supposed to help scare away the evil spirits," said Alice Lee.

"In Korea, our ancestors would not sleep on New Year's Eve, believing that if you did, it would make your eyebrows go white," said Jin Lee.

Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, does Lunar New Year 2022 carry a special meaning for Houston's Asian American community?

"This year has been especially joyful for a lot of families who get to see each other for the first time in a couple of years," said Thu Nguyen.

Nguyen added, "In terms of anti-Asian hate, it's also a holiday that we approach with caution. We know, this is a time where everybody understands that Asian-owned small businesses are seeing a peak in business. So folks are exercising a lot of caution when going out and about, because they could be attacked while they're doing essential travel or gathered in groups."

"Interestingly, firecrackers traditionally have been a way for Asian folk in ancient times as a tool to contain a pandemic. There are certain chemical ingredients within firecrackers and fireworks that's been known to either contain bacteria or viral infections," said Chang. "Coincidentally, we draw some historical parallels with where we are now with a new year. Hopefully, with the new year and setting off fireworks, we will be able to contain this pandemic."

"This year, the Lunar New Year festival is not just a celebration of the holiday anymore. It's a celebration of unity and also the cost for all of us, no matter what culture you're from- to stay together, to get through the pandemic, to get through this hard time. We cannot win this alone and we definitely cannot win it when we are divided," said Li.

For stories on Houston's diverse communities, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.