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David Lissner
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Gung hay fat choy! Chicago Chinese New Year celebrations

Chinatown lantern (Photo © City of Chicago)

With a clash of cymbals and the bang of drums and firecrackers, as well as traditional dragon parades and lion dances, the Asian New Year will explode into the Chicago area on Sunday, Feb. 14, with a variety of events at restaurants and around town.

Chinese legend says the noise and dancing animals chase away evil spirits, to ensure a lucky new year. Holiday traditions also call for visits to pay respect to one’s elders, passing out red envelopes containing “lucky money” as gifts and feasting on symbolic dishes, including half-moon-shaped dumplings, long noodles, whole fish and glutinous rice cakes. Celebrations begin the first day of the new moon and ends on the full moon 15 days later.

Based on a lunar calendar, the Asian new year falls on a different Western date each year. This year, 4708, the festivities usher in the Year of the Tiger in the Asian zodiac. In this 60-year cycle, each year is named after one of 12 animals, which supposedly influence the characteristics of anyone born that year. Tigers are said to be sensitive, sympathetic, deep thinkers, courageous and powerful, but indecisive, suspicious and distrustful of authority as well as extremely short-tempered.

Most often hailed as Chinese New Year in America, the holiday is also celebrated as Tet by Vietnamese and Seollal by Koreans.

The traditional Chinese new year greeting translates as “Wishing you prosperity.” Koreans say, “Please receive many new year’s blessings.” The Vietnamese is more literally “Happy new year.” Here’s how to say it:

  • Cantonese: Gung hay fat choy.
  • Mandarin: Gong shee fa tsai.
  • Korean: Say hay boke-mahn he pah du say oh.
  • Vietnamese: Chuc mung nam mouri.

A list of Chicago Asian New Year’s events follows the jump.

Chicago Asian New Year’s events

  • 2010 Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, free.

    A parade of marching bands, floats, lion dancers, and 100-foot Mystical Dragon feature in Chicago’s Chinatown celebration, along with a variety of other activities. The parade steps off at 1 p.m. down Wentworth Avenue.

  • Tibetan Losar Celebration, Evanston, 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, $15 at the door.

    The Tibetan Alliance of Chicago celebrates Losar, the Tibetan New Year 2137, the Year of the Male Iron Tiger, with traditional Tibetan dance, music and food at 2422 Dempster St., Evanston.

    UPDATE: The Tibetan Alliance of Chicago’s Feb. 20 Losar celebration, listed above, has been cancelled. Because the Tibetan Government in Exile, Dharamsala, is urging every Tibetan organization not to celebrate Losar this year in light of the situation in Tibet, the Chicago group will instead host “Friends and Supporters of Tibetan Alliance Appreciation Night,” with a video screening of “Educating the Heart” talk given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Madison, Wisc., in May 2008. The replacement event takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at 2422 Dempster St., Evanston.

  • Sun Wah BBQ Family-Style New Year’s Dinner, Uptown, Feb. 14–28, $300 per table of 10 to 12.

    Sun Wah offers a traditional meal of symbolic dishes, featuring: blessings of the four season, four-item combination platter of roast pork, ham hocks, beef brisket, and marinated squid; birds of happiness welcomes the spring, roast squab; wealth and good tidings. black moss and dried oysters stewed with maca root; joyful laughter, walnut shrimp salad; spirit of the horse, strength of the dragon. lobster with ginger and green onions; good luck at the forefront, Mike’s fried chicken; young and old at peace, king oyster mushrooms with Japanese tofu; abundance every year, steamed Dover sole; house filled with pearls, fried rice; and family unity, pan-fried year cake.

  • Seollal Party, Naperville, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21.

    The SW Suburban Chicago Korean Language and Culture Group gathers at the Naperville Community Center to will celebrate Seollal, Korean Lunar New Year, by exploring Korean culture and customs.

  • Koi Chinese New Year Celebration, Evanston, 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13.

    Traditional Chinese lion dancers perform and an a la carte menu of symbolic dishes such as Year of the Tiger shrimp and seafood pan-fried noodles features. The special menu continues through Thursday, Feb. 18.

  • Chens Chinese and Sushi Chinese New Year Celebration, Wrigleyville, 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13.

    Traditional Chinese lion dancers perform, with an a la carte menu of symbolic, lucky dishes such as Dragon and Phoenix, crispy chicken covered in tangy sweet and spicy pepper sauce with shrimp sauteed with vegetables in white wine sauce. The special menu continues through Thursday, Feb. 18.

  • Chinese New Year Celebration, Navy Pier, noon–5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, free.

    Navy Pier and the Chinese Fine Arts Society host an afternoon featuring lion dancers, choral groups, folk dancers, traditional music, craft activities and more. Schedule of events.

  • Lunar New Year Parade, Uptown, noon Saturday, Feb. 20, free.

    Floats, two lion dance teams, a dragon dance team, martial arts experts and the Rickover Naval Academy marching band perform in this parade, which begins at Broadway and Argyle streets. A traditional firecracker display will take place at Hip Sing, 1121 W. Argyle St.

  • Ben Pao Chinese New Year, River North, through Sunday, Feb. 14.

    A traditional Chinese New Year menu features daily with a la carte dishes such as whole crispy red snapper and Long Life noodles. At 6:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 13, traditional Chinese Lion dancers perform, with a mini fireworks show outside the restaurant. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, the restaurant hosts the “Crouching Tiger. Hidden Aphrodisiacs” Champagne and sparkling wine tasting, $30, including and bite-sized Chinese aphrodisiac appetizers, sparkling wines and Champagnes from around the world.

  • Big Bowl New Year Celebration,Gold Coast, River North, Lincolnshire and Schaumburg, through Feb. 15.

    Throughout the celebration, Big Bowl serves a menu of lucky dishes such as tiger shrimp and chive dumplings and tea-smoked duck with long noodles and Chinese chives. Diners will receive complimentary oranges, and Big Bowl will donate a portion of sales from its house-made ginger ale to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. During dinner tonight, each table can take a chance by rolling the dice for a discount. At 10 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 13, the Cedar Street and Lincolnshire locations offer a free dumpling class; reservations required. Sunday, Feb. 14, offers gifts to diners, including, for children, customary hong bao, small red envelopes containing a crisp dollar bill for good luck. And on Monday, Feb. 15, visitors born in the Year of the Tiger (1926,1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998 and 2010) will receive a free lunch or dinner.

  • Hong Kong at the Fulcrum Point celebrates the Year of the Tiger, Streeterville, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, free.

    Windpipe Chinese Ensemble makes its North American debut, direct from Hong Kong, in a concert at Thorne Auditorium. The event includes two world premieres commissioned specifically for this concert, including a composition to be played with a video of award-winning Chinese manga artist Lee Chi-ching creating a unique tiger-themed painting. Reservations required; limit four per person.