Northwell Health's Chinese BERG

Sharing traditions and culture with Lunar New Year celebrations. 

Written by: Julie Liu

Spanning a total of fifteen days, the Lunar New Year is a joyous time of renewal marked by gatherings with family and friends, elaborate feasts, parades, fireworks and gift giving. It marks the return of spring and reunion of family.

One thing that makes the Lunar calendar different than the Gregorian calendar is its use of representative animals, following a 12-year cycle, and 2017 ushered in the Year of the Rooster. Marking the end of the holiday, a magnificent red lantern festival will be on display as celebrants symbolize their letting go of the past and welcoming in of future good fortunes.

On February 4th, for the eighth consecutive year, contingents from Northwell Health marched in the Lunar New Year Parade in downtown Flushing, New York. The parade is the highlight of Lunar New Year celebrations in Flushing, including dragon dancers, kettle drummers and fireworks. The march draws a considerable amount of spectators each year.

Demonstrating its commitment to the Asian-American community, the senior leadership at Northwell Health participated in the customary tradition of receiving and gifting red envelopes to its Asian-American employee business resource group (BERG).  Our Chinese BERG leadership also had the opportunity to network with some of the most prominent, world-renowned Chinese medical scientists and researchers at the Northwell Health Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, during its annual Chinese New Year luncheon, hosted by the Chinese Association at the Feinstein Institute (CAFI). What a great honor to be surrounded by creative thinkers who share a singular focus of advancing science to prevent disease and cure patients (pictured above).

Overview of Lunar New Year Traditions

Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is China’s most important traditional festival. It is also a time for families to be together and celebrate a year of hard work and wish for a lucky and prosperous coming year.  Chinese people believe that a good start to the year will lead to a lucky year.

On New Year’s Eve, every street, building, and house is decorated with red.  Red is the main color for the festival, as it is believed to be a “lucky” color.  Red lanterns are also displayed in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; banks and official buildings are decorated with pictures and writings representing prosperity.

The New Year’s Eve dinner is called “reunion dinner”, and is believed to be the most important meal of the year, where families sit around round tables and enjoy the food and time together. Certain foods are eaten during the New Year’s Eve dinner, because of their symbolic meanings, based on their names or appearances, such as:

  • Fish – serving a whole fish symbolizes a year of abundance for the whole family. The Chinese word for fish is pronounced the same way as the word for abundance;
  • Nian Gao or sticky rice cake –symbolizes prosperity in the New Year. The word of Nian Gao can be pronounced the same way as higher year;
  • Oranges or Tangerines – because of their plump shape and golden color, oranges and tangerines are said to bring fortune and good luck. The Chinese word for orange sounds like success;
  • Dumplings – made to look like ancient Chinese currency and legend has it, the more dumplings you eat during New Years, the more money you will make;
  • Noodles – a staple food to Chinese culture, but when they are long noodles, it means longevity. The longer the noodle, the longer the life. Legend has it, the strand should be eaten whole and if you bite them half way thru, you might be cutting your life short

Just in the western culture, gifts are exchanged during the festival.  The most common gifts are red envelopes.  The envelopes have money in them and are given to children by the elder of the household.  According to a legend, there was monster that would come out during the New Year’s Eve and terrify children while they were asleep.  To keep children safe from being harmed, parents gave their children eight coins to play with the monster, in order to keep him tired.  The children would distract the monster by wrapping the coins in red, opening the packet, re-wrapping and re-opening the packet until the monster was too tired to fall asleep.  From then on, giving red envelopes to children became a way to keep them safe and bring good luck.

Gong Xi Fa Cai
Gong Hey Fat Choy

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