For those of you still recovering from
the start of 2006, you better take out those elastic waist pants,
because Brooklyn’s Chinatown is getting ready to party like it’s
Vibrant red and gold lanterns adorn the shops along Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park and serve as reminders to their neighbors that the start of the new lunar year, better known as the Chinese New Year, is on its way.
In a growing neighborhood whose bustle and ethnic composition is beginning to rival that of its famed Manhattan counterpart, the holiday is a time for families to celebrate and relax together, reflect on the past year and ensure good luck in the year to come.
"Most of Sunset Park’s Chinatown is made up of relatively new immigrants, so they still have some very close ties to the old country," said Katy Chau, director of social services at the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association. "The traditions are followed very closely and it is a huge event for families to get together and go through their various customs. Families generally have different ways of celebrating the holiday, but all of them focus on the start of a clean slate and the importance of celebrating with loved ones."
One of the most important holidays for the Chinese, the 15-day celebration begins on Jan. 29 this year. It originally marked the beginning of spring and the start of the planting season when Chinese families would gather to prepare for a prosperous harvest in the new year, and get rid of debts and other bad omens from the previous year, said Maria Fung, world language materials specialist at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Brooklynites can prepare to celebrate the Year of the Dog by heading to Sunset Park’s Eighth Avenue now to stock up on Chinese New Year’s provisions.
Where to shop
On the first day of the New Year, red, a color of good luck, should be worn by all, and black should be avoided entirely.
Many families stay at home for the day, but some go out for tea before enjoying dinner together.
One popular spot for this family outing in Sunset Park is Diamond on Eight Restaurant, on 60th Street at Eighth Avenue. Along with a pot of tea, families can dine on a variety of traditional "dim sum" delicacies and other authentic Chinese cuisine. ("Dim sum" is Cantonese for "heart’s delight," according to the "Food Lover’s Companion.")
For the main dinner, families usually eat at home, and usually enjoy foods that have positive meanings that bode well for family members in the coming year. In addition to chicken and pork dishes, many Chinese eat the lotus root, "lian hua," a word that in Chinese sounds like the word for "healthy family relationships," according to Brooklyn Public Library’s Fung.
A variety of vegetables are also eaten, which symbolize wealth in the new year, she said.
Noodles are eaten, and are left uncut to preserve a long and happy life. Noodles are a traditional part of the meal that is essential for any Chinese New Year celebration, said Yan Chao of K&S Market, on Eighth Avenue at 57th Street.
The Hong Kong Market, directly across the street from Diamond on Eight restaurant, has an assortment of foods to choose from and is a good place to do shopping for the meat portion of the meal. At Hong Kong Market, chicken, flank steak and pork loins are all affordably priced.
The holiday is especially popular for children. In addition to the red "lai-see," or "good luck," envelopes, that are filled with money and given to kids and unmarried young adults, sweet candies are everywhere to be found in Brooklyn’s Chinese convenience stores. Dried fruit candy and chocolates are popular among children and adults alike for dessert and are sold at the many markets and stores, including Sunrise Market on 54th Street at Eighth Avenue.
Oranges are exchanged by both friends and family, but other fruit, such as apples, are not to be had during the holiday, as the word for apple, "ping guo," is pronounced the same as the word for "poor" in Mandarin, explained Priscilla Luo, manager of Sunrise Market.
Stories that are typically told to children center around a monster, Nian, who comes out on the last night of the year to gobble them up.
"Families huddle together to stay away from the monster, and in China they would throw firecrackers into the street to fend it off," said Fung. "And on New Year’s Day the children would see that the monster was gone and they would celebrate with their family. Typically the whole family stays up together all night."
While lighting firecrackers in the streets is not legal in Brooklyn, this custom of family protection from Nian and celebration of togetherness are still main themes for New York’s Chinese immigrants.
If you want to deck your house out with red lanterns and firecrackers, Brooklyn’s Chinatown offers faux fireworks.
The AmeriStore Inc., on Eighth Avenue at 57th Street, has a variety of festive knick-knacks, including an electronic alternative - complete with crackling sound effects and a voice wishing a prosperous New Year (in Chinese, of course).
Upon entering the store, you will encounter a large statue of a cat, symbolizing good luck, which is present in many local stores around the beginning of the new year.
Purchase a red lantern and a "lai-see" gift envelope from one of the most festive stores in all of Chinatown, Easton Computers, Inc. on 56th Street at Eighth Avenue, to really get into the spirit of the holiday. A variety of envelopes depicting favorite children’s characters are available, such as Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Winnie the Pooh.
For an authentic celebration, make sure to have plenty of beer on hand, a Chinese drink of choice during New Year festivities.
"A lot of the older people around here drink a traditional favorite beer called Tsingtao," said Jun Chen, of AmeriStore Inc. "But Heineken is always popular, too.".
Lanterns and "lai-see" envelopes
are available at Easton Computers, Inc. [5710 Eighth Ave. at
56th Street, (718) 833-0888].
Decorative firecracker lights can be purchased at AmeriStore, Inc. [5624 Eighth Ave. at 57th Street, (718) 567-8007].
Noodles and other foods for the holiday meal are available at K&S Market Inc. [5712 Eighth Ave. at 56th Street, (718) 833-8801].
Beer, oranges and holiday-themed candy are available at the Sunrise Market [5403 Eighth Ave. at 54th Street].
Tea and traditional "dim sum" items are at the Diamond on Eight Restaurant [6022 Eighth Ave. at 60th Street, (718) 492-6888].
Meat for the Chinese New Year’s meal is available at the Hong Kong Supermarket [6013 Eighth Ave. at 60th Street, (718) 438-2288].
Brooklyn Public Library Chinese New Year events include: a Chinese New Year crafts workshop at the Homecrest branch [2525 Coney Island Ave. at Avenue V, (718) 382-5924] on Jan. 26 at 4 pm; Music from China concert featuring the erhu and yangquin instruments at the Sunset Park Branch [Fourth Avenue at 51st Street, (718) 567-2806] on Jan. 28 at 11:30 am; a Beijing Opera-style performance, face painting for children, singing and a Chinese martial arts demonstration at the Homecrest branch on Jan. 28 at noon; and a Beijing Opera-style performance at the New Utrecht branch [86th Street at Bay 17th Street, (718) 236-4086] on Jan. 31 at 1:30 pm.