If your new year isn't off to the best start and you want a do-over, you're in luck. It's almost time for Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year in many Asian countries. If you're only a little bit familiar with the holiday, you might be wondering what all those red lanterns and decorations are all about. What do those red envelopes mean and where can you go to see a lion dance? Explore this holiday with me and I'll answer those burning questions.
In the lunisolar calendar, the first new moon in mid-January or February each year marks the end of one year and daybreak ushers in a new one. You may know it as Chinese New Year, and that's certainly the day festivities start in China. Other countries (Korea, Vietnam and Singapore, among others) that use a lunar calendar also celebrate the holiday. This year, the big day for Lunar New Year and the first day of the Chinese year of the tiger is Tuesday, Feb. 1.
This holiday is celebrated the world over, and the ancient customs associated with it are on display at several locations in Dallas, including many of your favorite Asian-owned businesses. Oranges, fish dishes, noodles, and dumplings are the black-eyed peas and cabbage of this New Year's tradition; they're symbols of success, abundance, longevity and prosperity in the new year. A big New Year's Eve dinner is also traditional in cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Red symbolizes happiness, and gold is the color of wealth and prosperity. Together, they make up the color scheme of every Chinese New Year celebration. A lantern festival on the 15th day of the new year honors deceased ancestors and promotes peace and reconciliation. The red lanterns seen in local businesses bring together the fortunate color with the symbol of respect and hope.
My favorite of the Lunar New Year traditions is the Lion Dance. To perform the dance, two dancers share a costume and one moves the head and the other operates the rear end. Once the movements are learned and practiced, even children can do the dance successfully.
Dancers aren't the only performers in the troupe; musicians play drums, cymbals, and gongs as the lions move on the stage, down a parade route or among the tables at a restaurant.
The audience plays a part in the lion dance as well, "feeding" the lion Hongbao which are red envelopes with money inside. Red envelopes are a traditional way to give money gifts in China and other countries, and in the case of Lunar New Year dances, the cash serves as a support gift for the dance troupe or martial arts school.
If you're ready to experience the joy of a lion dance for yourself, here are three places you can see them in Dallas this Lunar New Year season.
The annual Lunar New Year Celebration at Asia Times Square is in its 15th year, and this year will be celebrated on two weekends. Festivities will take place on Jan. 21-23 and Jan. 28-30. Events on both weekends will include lion dances as well as other dance and singing performances and plenty of food vendors. Admission and parking are free.
Asia Times Square, 2625 W. Pioneer Parkway (Grand Prairie).
Restaurant owner Carol Nguyen is ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year at Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen with family and friends gathering, wonderful food, lion dances and more. The celebration begins on Friday, Jan. 28, and continues through Sunday, Jan. 30.
Two special dishes will be offered all three days--Banh Chung Chien (a Vietnamese pan-fried, sticky rice cake) and Bun Thang (special noodle soup dish from Hanoi). Staff will be wearing traditional Vietnamese garb and the place will be decorated with flowers from Nguyen's home as well as red and gold lanterns.
On Sunday, lucky diners could receive a gold envelope with gift cards inside, and lion dance performances are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen, 1907 Greenville Ave. (Lowest Greenville/Dallas)
An essential stalwart in Richardson's Chinatown district on Greenville Avenue, Jeng Chi is beloved for its classic Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. With authenticity to spare, it's no surprise that the restaurant will celebrate the Lunar New Year with a time-honored tradition. The eatery in fact will host two lion dance dinners this year.
The Rising Phoenix Troupe will perform at noon on Saturday, Jan. 29, and JL Sports Association will perform Saturday evening, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. Space will be limited, so make reservations right away on Jeng Chi's website if you don't want to miss out.
Jeng Chi Restaurant, 400 N Greenville Ave #11 (Richardson).