Cermak/Chinatown: Chinese Celebrate 'Year of the Rabbit'

Watch video highlights from the Chinese New Year in Chicago's Chinatown,
including a traditional Chinese dance and the famous mythical dragon. (Video by Candice Silva)

Cermak-Chinatown Stop IconBy Candice Silva
The Red Line Project

Despite the heavy snow that fell in February, more than 20,000 people stood on the streets of Chicago's Chinatown to watch the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade.

The parade featured many Asian traditions, including floats, marching bands and the famous paper dragon. The parade began in the year of 1953 and has attracted many people of all cultures ever since.

2011 marks the year of the Rabbit, and the Chinese predict this year will bring luck to everyone. The actual day of Chinese New Year was on Feb. 3. But because of weekday work schedules, the Chinese celebrated the New Year the following weekend.

The dragon was present in this celebration, as it is one of the most symbolic creatures in China. The dragon represents good luck, good fortune and prosperity. The Chinese often believe they are descendants of this mythical creature.

The most important and traditional part of this holiday for the Chinese is dinner. When parade-goers were asked what they typically do to celebrate this special day, many of them responded, “we eat … a lot.”

Amy Lee Photo by Candice Silva

Amy Lee (left) poses with another waitress at
Moon Palace in Chinatown. (Photo by Candice Silva)

Amy Lee, one of the top waitresses at restaurant Moon Palace located on West Cermak Road, said there are specific meals they serve to families on New Year’s Eve.

“The New Year’s Eve meal is the most important dinner of the year,” Lee said. “Families often celebrate dinner at a restaurant, so we try to incorporate the traditional meals within our menu. We tend to serve chicken, duck and pork dishes.  We also serve Won Ton soup and Song Gao, which is made of rice and then formed into a small and sweet rice cake.”

Lee also said she has her own traditions and explained what her family typically does for the New Year.

“This is a time for younger members of the family to respect their parents and elders. We exchange gifts with one another like Christmas, though we give more basic gifts such as fruit and tea. We also clean the house to prepare for the New Year and decorate our home with flowers and fruit as a symbol of good luck.”

Lee said certain fruits, such as tangerines, oranges and pomelos, are displayed in stores and homes all over China. Tangerines are a symbol of good luck, while oranges represent wealth. Pomelos, which are commonly known as large pear-shaped grapefruits, bring prosperity and success to the Chinese.

“My favorite part of the New Year is eating. Dumplings, also called ‘jiaozi’ in China, are the most common dish among my family. They are delicious,” Lee said.

On Sunday, February 13, Navy Pier honored the Year of the Rabbit by hosting events that featured lion dancers, martial artists, a Chinese costume show and traditional dance routines.

The Chinatown Chamber of Commerce was partnered with the event, as well as other associations such as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and the US-China Cultural Association.

Chinese New Year

Attendees pour into Chinatown for the Chinese New Year Parade. (Photo by Candice Silva)

Kelly Ng, a member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said the holiday stresses family gatherings.

“Chinese New Year is no different than the big holidays Americans celebrate, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.” she said. “It’s the day when the whole family, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, grandparents, gather in one place to enjoy a meal together and open gifts. It’s the one time where it is acceptable to sit on the floor or in front of the television, because my parents do not normally allow me to do this."

Ng said the color red is often used on the holiday.

“Wearing red on the first day of the New Year is a way to ensure the rest of the year will be full of good fortune and joy," she said. "Red is very positive for us, because it symbolizes success, happiness, loyalty and love.

"We also use the color red when we give money to the younger part of the family. We place money in the ‘hong-bao,’ which translates to ‘red envelopes’ in English. The older generations, who are married, have full-time jobs or have children, give these ‘red envelopes’ to the children or the single, unmarried adults. The amount of money you receive tends to correlate with the relationship you have with that person."

The biggest difference between celebrating the New Year in China versus in America is how much time they got off from work and school, Ng said.

“I grew up in the U.S., but I have family that still resides in China," she said. "They told me they get the entire week off. All the schools and businesses stay closed for the week so everyone can celebrate. I wish I could get the day off, let alone the week off here in Chicago."

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