Wenyu Yang had an afterschool activity, but the 11-year-old chose to return home immediately after classes instead Thursday. And her older brother, Wenyuan Yang, had a field trip planned, but skipped it so he could be home.
The two Atlantic City students didn’t want to miss the festivities associated with one of their family’s most anticipated holidays — Lunar New Year.
“New year is a time where everyone in the family — like everyone — comes together into one house and just celebrate,” Wenyuan Yang, 16, said.
Sunday is the start of the new year on the lunar calendar — a holiday celebrated with food, prayer and tradition by many Asians, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans. The celebration can begin days before the start of the new year and can continue for weeks after.
The Thursday gathering at the Yangs’ home was part of their annual new year’s eve tradition. In their living room, they temporarily placed a kitchen table that brimmed with Chinese dishes, such as boiled whole chicken, roast pork, fried fish and sweet rice cakes.
Pieces of red paper symbolizing good luck were placed on top of the plates of food, and 10 unopened bottles of beer lined the table’s edge. The family burned incense and made a short prayer, offering their food and drink bounty to their ancestors.
The four then gathered outside of their home, where they burned fake paper money in another offering to ancestors. As they placed the paper — gold side up — into the flames, they presented their wishes for the new year. Family matriarch Joy Chen, 40, wished for good health. Her son had a different set of concerns.
“I wish for straight A’s. That’s it. And a car, maybe, yes — and a car,” said Wenyuan Yang, an Atlantic City High School student.
Once the rituals ended, the family returned the beer bottles to their box and moved the table of food back into the kitchen, where they would share their meal.
Other families said they have more modest celebrations, which involving sharing a simple meal with relatives.
Some, such as Ron Lee, 52, a South Korean native and Egg Harbor Township resident, will attend church services with his family on Sunday. Lee will don traditional Korean attire and, during the service, congregants will bow to each other out of respect — younger people bowing to older ones, Lee said. Later, they planned to play traditional Korean games with their children and eat rice cake soup with dumplings to mark the new year, he said.
“That means you are getting one year older,” Lee said of the soup dish.
While the first week of the new year is traditionally reserved for family gatherings, celebrating with friends and others can continue for weeks.
Caesars Entertainment, which has hosted a lunar new year celebration for the past six years in Atlantic City, has scheduled a parade and Chinese market for Feb. 16, kicking off at 2 p.m. with a “waking the lion” dance on the Boardwalk in front of Showboat Casino Hotel.
The parade will feature from 250 to 300 costumed participants and include five floats that will travel the entire length of the Boardwalk, although the lion dance will go inside to the casino floor at Caesars and traverse into Bally’s, where the parade will end.
From 4 p.m. to midnight, Bally’s Grand Ballroom will feature a Chinese Market with 25 vendor booths offering food, drink, crafts and other merchandise. Thousands of people, including mostly families, are expected to attend, said Steve Hann, Caesars regional vice president of casino marketing.
“The awareness and level of participation has grown considerably,” he said of the event.
This year has been designated as the Year of the Snake and likely will feature that animal in the festivities, Hann said.
Other festivities being planned is one sponsored by the Holy Spirit Parish in Atlantic City, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with a Mass at the Roman Catholic Church and moves to a nearby gymnasium for a lion dance, food, music and other festivities at 8 pm.
The Atlantic City Free Public Library will host a lunar new year event, including a music and dance performance that starts at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Sovereign Avenue School has its Asian New Year Festival scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
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