January 26, 2022

Happy Lunar New Year from Healthier Generation!

January 1 has come and gone, but we’re still celebrating the start of a new year — the Lunar New Year. For many families, Lunar New Year brings opportunities to reconnect with loved ones, honor family and community elders, and step forward with hope and good fortune. Healthier Generation and a few of our health champions are excited to share our traditions, memories, and goals as we welcome the year of the tiger!

What Is Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year marks the first day of the lunisolar calendar, which is based on a combination of moon and solar phases. This holiday is observed in cultures around the world, especially among communities with East Asian roots. The day we observe Lunar New Year varies year by year, and 2022 starts on the Gregorian calendar’s February 1. The celebration doesn’t last just one day, though — preparations and festivities can span weeks and they’re unique to each culture!

Go to these stories:

Peter Cho and Sun Park of Han Oak restaurant share a family recipe

Chicago Public Schools teacher Sandra Moy-Lai celebrates with students

Healthier Generation’s Nhu Khazal at home for the holiday

Youth advocate Brandon Nguyen finds community on UCLA’s campus

Saying Yes to Adventure with the Cho Family
Peter and Mom celebrating Lunar New Year
Peter, age 6, celebrating Lunar New Year at school

Peter Cho and Sun Park own and run Han Oak restaurant as an extension of their home in Portland, Oregon. Peter’s mother and their kids Elliott and Francis help to energize the family business, and welcoming the new year is also a multigenerational celebration. “When we were children, our New Year's Day always started with a bowl of rice cake soup followed by either a large family gathering or a drive around town to drop in and pay respects to our elders. We still gather, but with children of our own now, we can appreciate this ritual on a more profound level. Intergenerational bonds are vital and with time more fleeting than we realize we had; these moments should be treasured.”  

A tradition on many special occasions is bowing. We show our gratitude and pay our respects to our elders who have paved the path we walk on.

Like many of us, Peter and Sun’s family had to adjust their recent new year’s celebrations, changing and growing what tradition looks like for them. “The past two years of celebration were sadly missed but there was growth through the disappointment. It feels even more important now, to not only honor our own family, but our friends who have become family. We hope to keep weaving our unique traditions into the fabric of society so we can all celebrate a beautiful community rich with diversity.”

New Year’s 2019, just before COVID-19 shutdown, all the cousins wearing their new “hanboks,” traditional Korean clothing, a gift from grandparents.

What does the new year hold for the Cho Family? “This past year we’ve learned hard lessons about ourselves, and we’ve been slowly but assuredly rebuilding our own narrative. Despite the many unknown challenges still ahead, with lockdowns, shutdowns, and working in a volatile industry, we know ourselves better than ever. For our family, 2022 will be the year of ADVENTURE. We will try to be creative in every aspect of our lives, take more risks, and invest in our community. The boys have started reading chapter books so the road ahead is filled with imagination and an exploding vocabulary. The most challenging goal for our family of homebodies? To get outside as often as possible!” 

Reading our latest chapter book, Galaxy Zack. Our adventure books sourced from our local independent bookstores – they have beautifully curated selections, warm helpful staff, and they ship!

Rice cake soup – or “tteokguk” – is an important meal in Korean New Year’s traditions. Learn more about rice cake soup and make a special family recipe of Grandma Myung Ja’s Humble Tteokguk!

Passing Down Traditions with Sandra Moy-Lai
Sandra and students at Budlong Elementary School, Chicago
Students celebrating Lunar New Year with a Parade

Third grade teacher Sandra Moy-Lai celebrates Chinese New Year, also known as Spring festival, with her students and  family in Chicago. This year, Sandra celebrated Lunar New Year with her third-grade students at Budlong School in Chicago, including a parade for students in kindergarten through Grade 8. Along with other school staff and Principal Naomi Nakayama, Sandra passed down traditions in her community. Check out these fun photos from their festivities! 

Principal Naomi Nakayama of Budlong Elementary

Some of Sandra’s favorite traditions include “putting up New Year decorations, usually with the color red, enjoying a New Year’s Eve dinner cooked by my dad (best cook ever), and giving out red envelopes to relatives with children with at least the dollar amount of 8, which is known as the luckiest number in the Chinese culture.” Generations-old traditions also tell people what not to do, including instructions not to sweep, eat porridge, or wash hair or clothes on New Year's Day, because you could do away with your fortune and prosperity in the new year. 

New Year's Eve dinner by Sandra's father

Like the other traditions, each dish Sandra’s father serves has meaning and purpose … and they taste delicious! “For my family, fish is important to increase prosperity, dumplings for wealth, nianga (rice cakes) for higher income and position. ‘Good fortune fruits,’ such as tangerines and oranges, lead to fullness and health.” And finally, “longevity noodles" represent happiness and long life. All these New Year’s Eve eats fuel Sandra’s personal tradition of taking 10,000 steps on New Year’s Day to stay active and healthy! “It is a must and a goal for the year 2022.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Sandra and her family celebrate. They stay connected with family near and far via video calls, “especially giving respect to our elders.” The family keeps their gatherings small as they honor ancestors, including visiting their graves before the reunion dinner “to show that we are letting our ancestors eat first and showing respect,” and including them with an extra glass and place at the table. Reflecting on her goals for the new year, Sandra says, “I am looking forward to visiting and celebrating with my mom who passed away last year and learning so much from my dad and passing it down to my children, so it is not forgotten and will continue on for many years to come.”  

In Chicago, the celebrations will conclude on February 13 in Chinatown as Sandra and her family watch the Chinese New Year parade with firecrackers and dragon dances. “We all share the same theme: seeing the old year and welcoming in the luck and prosperity of the new year. Please join us, if you can, to celebrate Chinese New Year 2022!” 

Making Time for Family with Nhu Khazal
An alter in Nhu's mother's home, honoring family elders
Thịt Kho (Vietnamese braised pork with eggs) and pickled mustard greens

Growing up in a Vietnamese American household, Healthier Generation’s Chief Talent & Administration Officer Nhu Khazal has been fortunate to be able to celebrate several holidays to ring in the new year. In addition to the ubiquitous New Year’s Eve celebration on December 31, Nhu and her family also celebrate Lunar New Year. In Vietnamese communities, the new year is called Tết, and is observed for three days starting Feb. 1, 2022.

“I recall my mother spending several weeks getting the house in order, making special preparations and foods that are only eaten during this time of the year. One of my favorite dishes is pickled mustard greens, which she is famous for amongst our relatives and serves as a perfect accompaniment to many of the main dishes.”

Cherry blossoms in celebration of the new year

Nhu remembers, “Prior to the pandemic, many relatives would come by and visit during the three days of celebration and enjoy a meal together. We would also visit many relatives’ homes to pay our respects and hand out red envelopes to the children.” After two years of subdued celebrations, Nhu is excited to spend this time with her family again and enjoy her mom’s famous home cooking. “This year, I’ve decided to take the first day of Tết to spend time with my parents. Because all my siblings have to work on the Lunar New Year, my mom is going to host a delayed new year’s celebration on the Saturday following, and it will be just our close family." 

An alter honoring Nhu's maternal grandparents

Celebrations may be smaller this year, but  they're just as meaningful for Nhu, "I get to enjoy what I consider to be comfort food. My son and daughter, along with the other children in our extended family (nieces and nephew), look forward to the custom of receiving red envelopes filled with brand new money for good luck in exchange for Tết greetings. This year, amidst the ongoing pandemic, my wish for everyone as we head into a new year, is lots of good health! "Chúc Mừng Năm Mới" (Happy New Year) and wishing everyone sức khỏe dồi dào (plenty of health)!"

Embracing Identity with Brandon Nguyen
Brandon and family in February 2018 at the Buddhist temple. His dad is taking the photo (not pictured)

For as long as UCLA student Brandon Nguyen can remember, his family would tell him that the house had to be spotless for Tết. “We had to wipe down the whole floor, take out all the trash, clean every surface, closet, and container before midnight the day before Tết. My family would also go on a big shopping trip to Santa Ana in order to buy beautiful yellow flowers that bloomed on Tết, red envelopes, and other decorations such as decorations to hang off the tree, plants, and walls.” After all that preparation, they would be ready for Tết!

January 2020: Brandon's sister and family friends / cousins ("I call them cousins because we are very close.")

On the rare occasion that Tết fell on a weekend while he was growing up, Brandon and his siblings could go to their local Buddhist temple to pay respects to deceased ancestors, go to the Tết festival, and visit family. “We would also call relatives in Vietnam to wish them a happy Tết. We would usually have a large gathering to celebrate! These celebrations were filled with amazing food, music, and everyone wearing Vietnamese traditional dress, áo dài. All the kids would line up and ‘chúc Tết,’ or give New Year’s wishes to their aunts, uncles, and older relatives in order to receive lì xì or the red envelopes filled with money.”

February 2018 with Brandon’s mom in the black and yellow áo dài, sister to the right in a light blue, and Brandon and his brother on the right in blue

“My favorite tradition of all time is wearing áo dài for Tết. When I was extremely young, I would refuse to wear it. However, when I went back to Vietnam a few years ago and bought an áo dài after almost 10 years of not wearing one, I began to embrace it and appreciate its beauty much more.” As a first-year student at UCLA, Brandon has found an amazing community of other Vietnamese and Asian students who have had similar experiences. “I have been inspired even further by them and fully embrace wearing áo dài. It got to the point where I kept begging my mom to take me to buy one for Tết. I now want to wear an áo dài for every Tết from now on!”

Brandon and family at the temple on a warm day to celebrate Tết

“In my community, I live in an area where there are not many Asian folx, and I was one of the only Asian students at my school, meaning I was one of the few that celebrate Lunar New Year.” Brandon didn’t have many Asian American peers, but he was always eager to share his traditions: “In middle school, in my history class, I gave a whole presentation about Tết and shared with them about my traditions. I loved teaching my friends the phrase, ‘Chúc mừng năm mới,’ which is ‘Happy (Lunar) New Year in Vietnamese!’” 

“We had to scale down and virtually had no gatherings at all. However, it did allow me to celebrate Tết more intimately with my close family only. We still had the amazing food, clothing, music, and red envelopes, but nothing could match the large gatherings we have all together as a big family.”

Celebrating the New Year Together

Did you know that there are several new year’s days observed in our communities? It’s true! Songkran—or Buddhist New Year—is observed in the springtime in Thai, Lao, and other Southeast Asian and Pacific communities. Islamic New Year is observed in late summer. And in Bolivian traditions, the new year is celebrated on the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, June 21. It’s called Willkakuti, which means “return of the sun” in the indigenous Aymara language. We hope that the new year brings health, happiness, and connection with your community, whenever and however you celebrate.

We are so grateful to our health champions for this opportunity to celebrate together. We’ll be adding new stories and memories to this blog post throughout the week to come. Stay tuned as we celebrate!

Happy Lunar New Year from all of us at Healthier Generation!


Kohleun Adamson

Manager, Culturally Responsive Communications | Alliance for a Healthier Generation