Asian Americans mark Lunar New Year in new ways

Millions of Asian Americans will celebrate the Lunar New Year, a holiday whose Gregorian calendar date varies from year to year because it is tied to the first new moon of the lunar calendar.

This year, the traditional Chinese lunar calendar’s new year celebration begins January 22 and ends February 5.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese Americans celebrate the holiday. Chinese Americans, the largest cohort (24%) among 22 million Asian Americans, also observe the Lunar New Year in the largest numbers, followed by Vietnamese Americans.

Child making dumplings (Courtesy of Meggie Miao)
Making dumplings (Courtesy of Meggie Miao)

Although the Lunar New Year is not a U.S. federal holiday, it is a school holiday in some major cities, including New York and Philadelphia.

For the first time in 2023, it will be an official holiday in California, home to the United States’ largest Asian American population (6 million people). Meggie Miao, a media producer, said living in California makes it easy to celebrate with a larger community, in her case with other families at her son’s Mandarin-immersion school. “We really value this time of the year. Even though we are no longer in China, what we hold on to is this idea of family and of respecting these values.” 

An American spin on traditions

Man carrying woman on his back at wedding who is wearing elaborate, brightly colored garment (© Matthew Gilbertson)
Patricia Park wears a traditional Korean hanbok at her wedding in 2019. (© Matthew Gilbertson)

Patricia Park, a novelist and English professor, recalls her family marking the new year with visits to her grandparents’ graves before performing a ritual at her uncle’s house.  “All the kids would wear their hanbok, which is the traditional Korean dress, and we would do sebae, bowing to our elders. And then we would receive our New Year’s money,” she said. 

Park, who values her Korean heritage, said that Lunar New Year is “a way for these traditions to stay alive. We put our own American spin on things, but that does not mean these traditions have to end with our migration to the States.”

Wei Ding, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts–Boston, called Lunar New Year “the biggest event for the Chinese tradition” and said her family always makes lucky dumplings — the entire family cooking together in the kitchen — from scratch for their holiday dinner.  

Ding says traditions are evolving among the growing Chinese American community in her Lexington suburb of Boston. She says Asian American groups whose heritages are tied to various countries hold joint dinners. Some invite non–Asian American secondary school students learning Mandarin to emcee the events. “People are more diverse,” she said. “We’re more open-minded, so we don’t do the Lunar New Year tradition exactly in the traditional way.”