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Chinese traditions behind Lunar New Year celebrations

Many Asian cultures celebrate the new year based on the lunar calendar.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — This weekend is the beginning of the new year, according to the lunar calendar. While many Asian cultures celebrate Lunar New Year, many of the events are hosted by Chinese organizations, as it's the third-largest Asian group in Minnesota.

When Margaret Wong first moved to the state though, that wasn't the case.

"I came to Minnesota more than 50 years ago. At that time, I think I was the only undergraduate Chinese student," she said with a laugh. Since then, I think the Chinese community has [grown] more than a hundredfold. I think we have 30,000 at least? 40,000?"

So this time of year is busy with events happening all over town.

"So many things to celebrate, in fact, the new year festival is the largest festival throughout the year," Wong explained.

Traditions include banquets involving all kinds of symbolic foods.

"Definitely lots of meat and fish, especially the fish because fish, yu, is a homonym for the word 'you yu,' meaning there will be plenty," she said. "Meats are usually prepared round like meatballs because roundness is a symbol of smoothness."

And the making of jiao zi, or dumplings, is usually a family activity.

"Dumplings are made in the shape of old gold bouillon, so jiao zi is a symbol of wealth," Wong said.

The color red is always front and center as well — for a reason.

"Red is a traditional Chinese color for thousands of years because of the superstition of ghosts being afraid of red," Wong said. "Red is a symbol of happiness; not communism, of happiness."

Frequently seen on doors of Chinese homes, fu, is one character that's built up of different parts, including symbols that mean spirit, family, mouth and land.

"Chinese believe that if you have spirit, you have family, you have food, and you have land, you have property; you are fortunate," Wong said.

The desire to start the year off with a clean slate, to wish for happiness and good fortune for ourselves and our loved ones, seems like a universal thread for all cultures, welcoming the new year with open arms.

"I'm sure every family has a sad story these last three years because of COVID. We are all very aware of our good fortune of having family together," Wong said.

Asia Mall in Eden Prairie is hosting celebrations and performances throughout the weekend leading up to Lunar New Year on Sunday. 

You can find the schedule here

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