Lunar New Year in Petaluma
Depending on where you are in the world or from where you draw your cultural foundations, it is sometimes called Lunar New Year, sometimes called Spring Celebration and (due to their vast influence over centuries and even millennium throughout Asia) is often referred to as Chinese New Year.
No matter what you call it, a good portion of the world celebrates the New Year according to the lunar calendar, not the Gregorian calendar we use in Europe and the Americas. One notable exception here in the west are the Nisga’a, indigenous peoples of Canada, mostly concentrated around Vancouver, who celebrate Hobiyee at the emergence of the first crescent moon of their New Year.
Lunar New Year signifies the beginning of the new lunar calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon, unlike the Gregorian calendar where the phases of the moon rarely appear on the same day of each month. Even those who use lunar calendars celebrate the start and end of the year at different times. Hindu, Islamic and Jewish cultures usually celebrate at a different time than most of the Chinese-influenced celebrations, which fall shortly after the winter solstice.
Traditionally, Chinese New Year starts at the second new moon after the winter solstice, while in other cultures the Lunar New Year is often celebrated on the first new moon. However, as most Asian New Year’s celebrations derive from the Chinese, the New Year in Japan, Korea and Vietnam all tend to follow the same dates as Chinese New Year. Of special note, the Chinese incorporate their 12-year cyclical animal-zodiac into their celebration. During this year’s Chinese New Year’s celebration we wave goodbye to the year of the Rat and welcome in the year of the Ox.
As it stands, there are two schools of thought when it comes to how to refer to this New Year’s celebration. Calling it “Chinese New Year” may be considered overbroad, however, calling the same celebration “Lunar New Year” ignores the fact that there are other cultures that have their own lunar new year celebrations at other times of the year. If you do find yourself in China at the time of the celebration, know that there it will simply be called “New Year’s,” just as Nubian goats are simply call “goats” in the region of Nubia.
Regardless of what it is called, where it is celebrated and to which customs it adheres, unlike the west’s single night of New Year’s Eve frivolity, most of the rest of the world celebrates a Lunar New Year with multiple days of festivities that focus on food and family. This year’s celebration started on Thursday, Feb. 11, (New Year’s Eve) and at least for the Chinese, ends after the Lantern Festival, Friday, Feb. 26. And for those who think westerners really know how to live it up on New Year’s, consider that the Chinese take the whole week off from work to celebrate their New Year.
I inadvertently stumbled into this year’s Chinese New Year when I reached out to Joanne Wu of Fantasy Restaurant for the accompanying article on this page. I just so happen to contact her on the first day of the Lunar New Year and she was slammed beyond belief. We both had a good laugh and agreed to talk later. Thankfully, many of my missteps lead to great food, as well as heart-warming stories of cross-cultural celebrations.
As soon as Chinese New Year was on my mind, I started to notice more celebrations. First came an email from Liberty Ducks. With duck being one of my favorite parts of Chinese cuisine, I clicked the link and found several duck recipes, including one from long-time Liberty Ducks fan and local celebrity Lance Lew.
The attached video showed Lance making two Nian Goa (a Chinese New Year’s cake), explaining that one is for the household’s New Year’s alter, while the second cake is eaten in portions, some on New Year’s Eve and some on New Year’s Day.
“This symbolic ‘carry over,’ having enough for today and tomorrow, is an important Chinese virtue and a global wish as we manage this pandemic,” says Lance.
As often happens in such a close-knit community, Lance Lew’s name popped up in the Petaluma Foodies group on Facebook when he posted tantalizing photos of half a dozen dishes he had prepared for the celebration.
“Traditional Lunar New Year meals includes symbolic foods that will bestow good luck and always include something from the land, ocean and sky,” Lance posted, with a detailed description of the dishes he had prepared as well as their significance to the celebration.
If Lew’s name sounds familiar, his face is even more recognizable as he is a regular on-air personality on NBC Bay Area, as well as the director of community marketing for the same. He is an avid chef (and floral designer) and is well known for his charitable Lunar New Year’s dinners. His 10 course dinners are paired with 10 Benzinger Family wines and have raised over $125,000 for Sonoma charities over the past decade, with two of his dinners bringing in a record $20,000 each.