When the Year of the Horse comes galloping in, the Asian community will be ready.
The Chinese New Year is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for the Asian community, said Haiyan “Helen” Wang, with the Stanislaus Chinese Culture Society. It’s akin to Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one.
“It’s so big in China and Asian countries,” said Wang, of Salida. “It’s a tradition for people to get together. They try their best to get home. It’s like billions of people on the move.”
The group has been practicing and making preparations for the eighth annual Chinese New Year celebration at 2 p.m. Feb. 8 at Modesto’s Senior Citizens Center, 211 Bodem St. While the celebration will be decidedly smaller than communities with large Asian populations, it is nonetheless as important, because it is a vehicle for sharing culture.
The free program is geared for families. Performances by local and out-of-town groups, Chinese paintings, martial arts demonstrations, Chinese calligraphy and musical entertainment will be in the mix, according to Bruce Lockard, recreation supervisor for Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department.
“We are planning another exciting presentation of performers and cultural exhibits. We will feature traditional dancers, martial artists, singers and musicians, along with guest speakers,” Lockard said in an email.
Wang and others have been following the traditions of their homeland in the weeks and days leading up to Jan. 31, the start of the new year. For Lisa Dee of Patterson, that means making dumplings.
“I grew up in Beijing, China,” she said in an email. “I remember the best time in my childhood was making dumplings with grandma, parents, sisters and brothers together at Lunar New Year Eve.
“We would stay up all night and make hundreds of dumplings and freeze them so we’d have them available for the three-day holiday celebration.”
Those memories are shared by Pengtao Li, who teaches computer information systems at California State University, Stanislaus.
“In the northern part of China, like Beijing,” said Li, “we will eat dumplings, homemade dumplings. We will stay up late until midnight. It’s a tradition. Dumpling is a must. People tend to eat it toward midnight.
“Another tradition is to set off firecrackers and fireworks. In China, everybody does it,” Li said. “After midnight, people will eat the dumpling and go out with firecrackers and fireworks.”
Li, who came to the United States two weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, will be celebrating with his parents, in town for the holidays.
“The tradition is dining at home,” Li said. “The younger generation might go to restaurant, but for the older people, it’s tradition to eat at home.”
Houses get a thorough cleaning before the holiday as people dust or sweep out ill fortune and welcome good luck. They repay debt, buy new clothes, get haircuts. Some don’t wash their hair for the same reason – they might wash away good luck. And using knives or scissors is also frowned upon, as that might cut off fortune.
Parents give children red envelopes with money and Chinese coins. Sums can range from $100 to $500, Wang said.
People will put a scroll on top of the door and a piece of paper with calligraphy on each side of the door with blessings on them, Li said, wishing everything goes well for the new year. Sometimes, on the door, they might put a picture of a traditional Chinese figure or door god or a little boy or girl carrying fish – with the fish symbolizing abundance – to keep ghosts away and safeguard the home. Decorations are done in red or gold, he said, because they are colors of fortune and prosperity.
“On New Year’s Day, New Year’s Eve, everything has to be done,” Wang said, including cooking. For the holiday, Wang prepares stir-fried vegetables and tofu. Together, she said, they ensure prosperity. A dish of fish means prosperity or abundance, she said.
Meatballs of all types are another Wang family mainstay: meatballs with rice, meatballs with vegetables and meatballs in soup with noodles. The round form of the meatballs, Wang said, is a symbol of family and community unity. “Meatballs in soup with noodles is prosperity,” she said.
The Chinese calendar is based on the positions of the sun and phases of the moon. There are 12 moons in a lunar cycle, plus an extra moon every 13 moons, which is why the Chinese New Year never falls on the same day. The lunar year starts Jan. 31 this year.
The celebration is commonly referred to as the spring festival, Li said. This year ushers in the Year of the Horse, so people born in the new year will have some of the horse’s personality traits. “A horse is strong, muscular, works very hard,” Li said. “A horse also means success in China.”
Bee staff writer Sharon Ghag can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2340.