The streets of Chinatown in Manhattan, Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn are awash in red and gold as revelers begin preparing for Chinese New Year Jan. 31. This year, millions of Chinese will usher in The Year of the Horse with midnight snacks, toasts, and fireworks on Jan. 30. There’s no better place to celebrate the most important and longest holiday in Chinese culture than New York City.
Chinese New Year spans 15 days and is held on different days in January and February each year (based on the lunar calendar). Each year has its own corresponding animal from the Chinese zodiac, a cycle of 12 animals.
Whether you decide to celebrate at home by making your own dumplings or at a restaurant, The Daily Meal’s Guide to Chinese New Year 4712 is here to help.
Chinatown is the perfect place to stock up on groceries and snacks. Each Chinese home typically has a tray of togetherness or prosperity box, an octagonal or round platter with eight compartments filled with snacks, to share with visitors. Each of the eight items in the tray of togetherness has symbolic meaning meant to insure a prosperous New Year.
Ready-made trays can be bought at most Chinatown grocery stores in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. For those who want to make their own or just sample one or two items on the plane ride home, a traditional tray contains: candy melon (symbolic of growth and health), fresh or dried coconut (for friendship and unity), kumquat (for prosperity), longan (for fertility), lotus seeds (for fertility), lychee nuts (for strong family ties), peanuts (for longevity), and red watermelon seeds (for happiness).
Other holiday treats readily available at food stores include chocolate coins and mandarin oranges. Hong Kong’s Aji Ichiban on 37 Mott Street has a great assortment of treats. Museum of Chinese in America offers a seasonal walking tour through Manhattan’s Chinatown on Saturdays and Sundays until Feb. 9 which introduces Chinese New Year traditions and customs plus shows participants where to stock up on supplies.
Chinese New Year Meals
Once you’ve stocked up on snacks, chun lian (red and gold Chinese paper decorations), and red envelopes to fill with money, its time to celebrate with food. A huge feast is customary on Chinese New Year’s Day.
Manhattan is brimming with traditional and non-traditional options for a new year’s feast, from a proper nine-course meal at Shun Lee West featuring prosperity Szechuan dumplings and Peking duck to simple, savory steamed and fried dumplings at Dumpling Man in St. Mark’s Place to dim sum at Grand Harmony on Mott Street in Manhattan to Hakkasan’s special a la carte menu featuring steamed sea snapper with salted plum and stewed pork trotter with black moss in brown sauce; a lion dance at the restaurant ushers in the new year on Jan. 31.
No matter where you eat, be sure to order one or two traditional Chinese New Year dishes, each chosen not only for its deliciousness but also for its special symbolism: dumplings, whose shape resembles ancient silver and gold ingots, are symbolic of wealth; a whole fish is emblematic of surplus as the Chinese word for fish, yú, sounds like the Chinese word for surplus; and hard liquor for longevity because the Chinese word for alcohol, jiǔ, sounds like the Chinese word for longevity.
Traditional Celebrations, Fireworks, and Parades
While food plays a central role in Chinese New Year’s celebrations, fireworks are nearly as important. The fireworks tradition began with the legend of nian, a ferocious monster that was afraid of the color red and of loud noises. Now, it is believed by most revelers that the more fireworks and noise there are, the more luck there will be in the new year. Manhattan’s Chinatown is hosting the 15th annual New Year Firecracker Ceremony & Cultural Festival at 11am, Friday, Jan. 31 at Sara Roosevelt Park (Grand and Forsyth streets). Local community leaders and politicians ignite more than 100,000 firecrackers and local organizations set up a cultural fair featuring traditional food and crafts.
The celebration continues at 1pm on Sunday, Feb. 2 with the 15th Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival featuring food booths, lion and dragon dances, and more through Manhattan Chinatown’s main streets including Mott, Bowery, East Broadway, Bayard, Elizabeth, and Pell.
Queen’s celebrates Feb. 8 with its 18th annual Lunar New Year Parade at 11am near Flushing Library (Main and Kissena streets). The parade features nearly 4,000 marchers, including dragon dance troops, drummers, and fireworks. The festivities continue at Queens Crossing Mall on 39th Avenue with a cultural festival complete with booths selling traditional snacks and crafts.
Lauren Mack is the New York City Travel Editor. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.