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While most of us have finished sweeping up the confetti and tossing out the “Welcome 2012” paper plates, Amber Chiang and her family will have just started planning their New Year’s celebration.  And, they’ll be breathing fire into 2012.

It’s the Year of the Dragon, and the Chiangs, Amber, her husband Charley Chun-Wei, son Nicklas Ming-Yi (10), and daughter Kariya Ming-Li (8), will join hundreds of other Kern County families as they honor a centuries-old tradition by celebrating the Chinese New Year.

“The Chinese New Year, the longest and most important Chinese holiday, is based on the lunar calendar,” Amber explains.  Traditionally, New Year festivities begin on the first day of the lunar month and continue for 15 days or longer, but “in Bakersfield and with our family, it [the celebration] is typically one night,” she adds.

Although traditions vary among Asian countries, legend tells the story that long ago, Buddha called all the animals to him on the Chinese New Year.  Twelve animals came to him, and Buddha rewarded those animals by naming a year after each one.  He also proclaimed that people born in the year of each particular animal would take on some of the animal’s personality traits.  So according to legend, those born in 2012 (the Year of the Dragon) will be brave, passionate, and inventive.

As with traditions, celebrations differ from one Asian country to another.  People may wear red clothes, mark the occasion with fireworks displays, have parades, and enjoy feasts centering on cuisine from that particular area.  “Most celebrations include the exchanging of (hong bao), little red envelopes which contain money. They are typically given to younger children. There’s even a cute little sing-song rhyme which the  children use to ask for the hong bao and make elders laugh,” Amber says. 

Food and family are big parts of almost all Chinese New Year celebrations.  “In Kern County, the Chinese American Association of Kern County holds an annual Chinese New Year dinner. The dinner, which is on February 12 at Panda Palace, will be emceed by yours truly and will feature performances by exceptional Chinese children in the community and students from the Bakersfield Chinese School and the Confucius School. Our family also has a dinner at China Palace restaurant on Chinese New Year. My husband’s sister owns China Palace. After the restaurant closes, we have an amazing feast with the family, restaurant staff and their families, friends, and guests,” Amber says, adding that some of her favorite dishes include cold roast pork, salt and pepper shrimp, lobster with ginger and onion, black bean crab, and red bean soup.

“A lot of the tradition for food has to do with the sound of the food being reminiscent of a ‘good luck’ or ‘Happy New Year’ phrase. Oranges and sweets are most prevalent,” Amber explains, “but various Asian regions will have their own traditional New Year’s celebration dishes. “

It’s a way of keeping Chinese families connected and passing on cultural traditions to a new generation by honoring ancient customs and rituals.  And, not only are they reconnecting with other Chinese families in the community and teaching children about their culture, traditions and history, they’re having a lot of fun.  The passing of the hong bao to the children, an amazing dinner shared with family and friends, watching the children show how much they’ve learned at the Bakersfield Chinese School and seeing them dressed in traditional Chinese clothing…it’s all a perfect way to say “Gong Xi Fa Cai.”

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