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How to Celebrate Chinese New Year in Hoboken + Jersey City

by Yiwei Gu
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The Lunar New Year, or “Chinese New Year,” due to its common association with China, marks the start of a new lunar cycle. It is widely celebrated in Asia, and the traditions vary from country to country. Most Westerners’ experience with the Chinese New Year involves watching dragon and lantern shows in Chinatown. Beyond that, there are many easy, cozy things you can do locally with family and friends to celebrate this holiday. Read on to discover how to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Hoboken and Jersey City.

chinese new year 2020

Get Together with Family and Give Red Envelopes

Similar to Thanksgiving in North America, the Lunar New Year is the biggest family occasion in China. In family gatherings, pocket money wrapped in red envelopes is given to young children, to “suppress evil spirits,” as the money’s Chinese name suggests. The amount does not matter, as long as the givers are confident that the children can spend it responsibly. Nor is there an age when a child is too old to receive a red envelope —some families continue this celebratory tradition until the kids graduate from college or get married. Red envelopes can be bought from local Asian grocery stores or in Chinatown in NYC. Go to stores or street vendors selling paper goods, which can be easily found during the Chinese New Year season.

Put a “Happiness” Poster on the Front Door

Many Chinese families love to put up a “Fu,” or happiness poster on the front door. The character is deliberately hung upside down since it symbolizes “happiness arriving” (upside down, in Chinese, is pronounced the same as “arriving”). These posters can be easily found in Chinatown, from the same vendors where you get red envelopes. Feeling too lazy to go to Chinatown? Send a “Fu” meme to your family and friends instead. There are also other tongue-in-cheek memes such as “job offer arriving” (upside down “offer”), for those who need them.

Read More: Lunar New Year Events Near the Hudson County Area

Indulge in Some Festive Food

It is the time of the year when people take a break from a years’ hard work, pat themselves on the back, and enjoy good food with family and friends. Traditional Lunar New Year Eve dishes vary from region to region, depending on the local climate and availability of ingredients. But most are elaborate, festive dishes that require hours or even days of preparation. This does not mean you’ll miss out on the feasting. There are simple, tasty new year dishes that can be easily made at home or found at local businesses.

Eat Jiaozi for Fortune

The gold-ingot-shaped jiaozi, or dumplings, symbolizes fortune and prosperity and is a must-have for the Chinese New Year. People love it not only because it’s great comfort food after the New Year’s Eve feasting, but because dumpling-making is also a fun family bonding activity. Ground meat and/or vegetables mixed with flavorful spices are stuffed into thin, stretchy flour wraps (available for sale at Asian grocery stores) and put into half-moon-shaped little pouches. They are then steamed or boiled and can be dipped in chili sauce, or very strong vinegar, to spice up the flavor. For those who are not ambitious enough to make their own, dumplings can be found at the frozen food departments at most local Asian supermarkets or at Trader Joe’s. 

See More: A Guide To + History of Chinese Takeout in Hoboken + Jersey City

Enjoy Spring Rolls for the Spring Season

This deep-fried, flute-shaped appetizer is often associated with the spring season and life. There is no fixed recipe for spring rolls, but a popular seasonal variety is filled with garlic chives and minced meat. They are fatter and longer than the finger-shaped spring rolls in Asian restaurants and taste the best fresh from the frying pan. Bite into the crunchy wrap, and enjoy the flavors inside.  These can also be found at the frozen food departments of Asian supermarkets.

Eat Fish for Abundance

Fish is usually the centerpiece of the New Year’s Eve dinner table since the Chinese word for fish sounds the same as the word for “abundance.” It doesn’t matter what fish is used, or how it is cooked, as long as it’s a whole fish, with the head and tail attached. Do not dread the bony parts: the bones and skin add flavor to the fish, and picking the bones is part of the fun of fish-eating. You can find a great recipe here or go to a local Chinese restaurant and ask for a seasonal special.

Eat Niangao for Becoming Your Best Self

Niangao, or “rice cake for the new year,” is filling comfort food for the cold season and is considered auspicious since the name shares the same pronunciation as “getting higher every year.” The dough, which is made of rice flour, is cut into short strips or thin slices, and stir-fried with meat and/or vegetables. The Korean dish Tteokbokki, made of chewy rice cakes bathed in garlic and spices, is one of the countless ways of enjoying rice cakes and is widely available at local Korean restaurants. Or get semi-prepared rice cakes at a Korean grocery store and throw them into a hearty stir fry.

Those with a sweet tooth can also get the sweet version of rice cakes from local Asian grocery stores. Try to find the variety marinated in osmanthus (a tiny flower often used as a herb, also called tea olives) syrup, which gives the pastry a sweet and buttery aroma. 

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