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Feb. 1 will ring in the Lunar New Year and kick off the Year of the Tiger


It's New Year's Eve, eve. The Lunar New Year begins February 1, bringing in the Year of the Tiger. In places like China, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea, the festivities can last for two weeks. Hallmarks include money stuffed into red envelopes and stomachs stuffed with everything from dumplings or fried rolls to sweet rice cake.

LISA LIN: I really enjoyed helping my mom stuff red envelopes just because I like origami, and I like touching crisp bank notes.

SUMMERS: Lisa Lin grew up in San Francisco. Her parents are from Guangdong, China. This year, she plans to cook pan-fried brown sugar rice cake with her mom.

LIN: You get the caramelization on the outside of the piece of nian gao, and then it's soft and chewy on the inside. It's so good.

SUMMERS: For Lin, Lunar New Year is synonymous with her mom's cooking.

LIN: To me, Lunar New Year is not complete until I eat my mom's food.

SUMMERS: Lunar New Year celebrations are traditionally bustling multifamily, multigenerational gatherings. Krissy Lee, an Ecuadorian-Chinese college student from Queens, N.Y., recalls past New Year celebrations with her aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.

KRISSY LEE: We'll have, like, an end of the year banquet. So all of my cousins will be there, and we'll have, like, three tables filled filling up the restaurant. So it would be so exciting.

SUMMERS: This year, the pandemic is again complicating her plans, and it prompted her to find a unique, new way to mark the holiday.

LEE: I've actually been doing nails since middle school.

SUMMERS: Last week she spent six hours in her room painting an intricate nail design to honor the Year of the Tiger.

LEE: Oh, girl. This took forever - like 20 tries. Every nail except the pinky is all red with the golden design.

SUMMERS: Other nails are elaborately decorated with the Chinese character for tiger. There are golden tiger stripes, a golden tiger head and another character, fu, which means prosperity. During the new year, fu can be seen hanging from doorways and on red envelopes to attract good fortune for the entire family.

When she was 18, Valerie Nguyen left Hanoi, Vietnam, to pursue college in the United States.

VALERIE NGUYEN: I basically kind of took Tet, or Lunar New Year in English, for granted for all of that time until, like, the last year before I left. I was, like, oh, I probably won't be seeing this for a while.

SUMMERS: This year she was home only for the first day of celebrations before jetting back to the U.S. for her last semester of college. She spent her final day in Vietnam with her family at the market buying fish for a ceremony.

NGUYEN: Usually they are really pretty koi fish, I believe, and come to, like, a nearby lake or river and release the fish back into the water.

SUMMERS: The ceremony comes from an ancient story of the kitchen gods. These gods rode on the backs of these fish to visit heaven to report news from the families they represent. The ceremony, many Vietnamese people believe, sends good fortune back home and keeps kitchen fires blazing and families happy and healthy. Now in the U.S., Nguyen is just coming to realize just how much her family's 10-day-long extravagant celebrations mean to her.

NGUYEN: That got me really emotional, and I was really sad to miss, like, the actual events.

SUMMERS: It's not quite the same for her in New Haven, Conn.

NGUYEN: Here, it's just like another day.

SUMMERS: But she says she'll be sure to travel to New York City's Vietnamese restaurants to celebrate the new year. And over on Long Island, 9-year-old Aiden Shi has some good advice for everyone as the world enters the Year of the Tiger.

AIDEN SHI: Always stay hopeful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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