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David Lissner
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Gung hay fat choy! 8 Chicago Asian New Year celebrations

Year of the Dragon-Chinese New Year

Get ready for the Year of the Dragon! With dragon parades and lion dances, clashing cymbals and banging drums, firecrackers and a plethora of traditional foods, the Asian Lunar New Year explodes into Chicago this week with a variety of events at restaurants and around town. 2012 also marks the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s Chinatown.

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 hong bao, 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 end 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, 4710, the festivities usher in the Year of the Dragon 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. Dragons are said to be passionate, driven and risk takers who are usually successful.

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 2012

  1. Big Bowl restaurants on the Gold Coast and in River North Lincolnshire and Schaumburg celebrate Thursday through Monday, Jan. 19–23 with a menu of symbolic foods. Chef Marc Bernard’s dishes include shrimp and chive dumplings with a fiery sauce in honor of the dragon, Cantonese-style lobster for bounty and almond cookies representing gold coins. On Friday, Jan. 20, each table can roll dice for dinner discounts.

    At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, the Gold Coast and Lincolnshire locations offer a free cooking class on making dumplings, which represent wealth and prosperity. Students receive a free bag of dumplings. Reservations are required.

    Sunday, Jan. 22, offers diners hong bao containing gift certificates (or $1 bills for children), and on Monday, Jan. 23, Chinese New Year’s Day, diners born in the Year of the Dragon (1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 and 2012) receive a free lunch or dinner entree.

  2. PL8 Simply Asian in Barrington offers symbolic specials: Thursday through Sunday, including steamed jaoizi dumplings ($7), considered to usher in wealth and good luck, filled with shrimp, crabmeat, garlic, ginger, napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and Shaoxing wine; and served with black vinegar dipping sauce; salt-and-pepper shrimp ($8), signifying liveliness and bounty; tangerine chicken ($14) coconut-battered, wok crisped and topped with house-made tangerine sauce; served with candied tangerine peels and fresh citrus, said to bring good luck and wealth; “Long Life” noodles ($13), White Marble Farms all-natural pork braised with star anise, rock sugar, soy, ginger root and orange peel, tossed with fresh wheat noodles, Shanghai bok choy and fresh shiitake mushrooms; and whole crispy red grouper ($24), deep fried and served with spicy red chili sweet-and-sour sauce.

    New Year events at PL8 include the “Eight Treasure Food and Wine Tasting,” Thursday, Jan. 19, $30; a traditional Chinese Lion Dance at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20; and hong bao handouts Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 21 and 22. On Sunday, diners born in Dragon years will receive $8 off their final bill.

  3. Koi in Evanston fetes Chinese New Year at Restaurant in with a special “Good Luck” menu Saturday through Thursday, Jan. 21–26, featuring Szechwan won ton with peanut sauce ($5) and seafood pan-fried noodles ($12.95) — both peanuts and noodles bring long life; lychee chicken ($12) with chicken to delivers prosperity and lychee nuts to strengthen family relations; beef with bamboo shoots ($11.95), the name of which sounds like “wishing that everything would be well”; and “Dragon and Phoenix” ($16.95), crispy chicken in tangy sweet and spicy pepper sauce paired with shrimp and vegetables in white wine sauce, which represents long marriage. Koi will also offer its signature Dragon Maki for just $5.

    At 7 p.m. Saturday, Chinese lion dancers perform at Koi.

  4. The Hip Sing Association’s Lunar New Year Parade in Uptown kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28 from association headquarters at 1121 W. Argyle St. and proceeds east to Sheridan Road, south on Sheridan to Lawrence Avenue and then north on Broadway back to Argyle. The parade features lion and dragon dances, floats and the Senn High School Marching Band. Afterwards, the lion dancers will visit area Asian restaurants and light firecrackers to scare away evil spirits and bring in good fortune.
  5. The Vietnamese Association of Illinois hosts a Tet Festival from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at St. Augustine College, 1333-45 W. Argyle St., Chicago. The event features cultural performances including dragon dances and martial-arts demonstrations, games and food booths. Admission is free.

  6. The 2012 Lunar New Year Parade celebrating the Year of the Dragon in Chinatown, Sunday, Jan. 29, offers marching bands, floats, lions teams and a mystical dragon, as well as kicking off celebrations of Chinatown’s Centennial. The parade steps off at 1 p.m. with other activities starting at 11:30 a.m.

  7. The Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce hosts a 2012 Lunar New Year Celebration banquet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Cai. Community awards, cocktails and a festive New Year’s dinner feature. Tickets start at $75 and must be purchased by Wednesday, Jan. 25.

  8. The Asian American Coalition of Chicago hosts its 29th annual Lunar New Year Celebration at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, 9300 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont. Events begin with a cocktail reception followed by dinner, entertainment and awards ceremonies. The single largest organized annual event in Chicago’s Asian American community, the evening usually attracts over 1,000 people. Every year a different Asian community takes turn playing host; this year it is the Thai Americans. Tickets are $800 per table of ten; e-mail