Life + Arts

Lunar New Year looks to bright future, ancient superstitions

If you know someone who celebrates Lunar New Year, you might remember receiving a red envelope from them in the past.

Inside was usually a coin, maybe more depending on the generosity of the giver, bestowed as a wish for good luck. All of this was but part of a larger celebration: the start of the Lunar New Year.

“When I was younger, I used to go to (Buddhist) temple, and that’s when they have Tet, all the lanterns and festivities,” said Linda Nguyen, an environmental science sophomore, on celebrating Lunar New Year.

“We wore our ao dai (a traditional, formal Vietnamese garment), but now we barely do anything. We just get red envelopes and say ‘Chúc mung nam moi’(‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese). ”

Being the first major American port to open its harbor to refugees during the Vietnam War, Houston boasts the largest Vietnamese population of any major United States city. It’s no surprise, then, that getting red envelopes isn’t too odd of an experience, and neither is the awareness of Lunar New Year.

Biochemistry and biophysics sophomore Christopher Le-Vu said that for his family, Lunar New Year is about following superstitions. Considering that Lunar New Year was started to keep a giant monster from devouring crops, livestock and children, this makes perfect sense.

“My parents make me leave the house and come back in,” Le-Vu said. “My mom will be like ‘So cua con’ (‘your number’ in Vietnamese). It’s another way of saying ‘it’s your future.’ ”

Another luck-bringing tradition is the lion dance. Le-Vu said it’s one of his favorite parts of Lunar New Year, and supply-chain senior Justin Kwan actually performs the lion dance.

“Lion dancing has deep roots in the Lunar New Year, primarily to start the new year with good fortune,” Kwan said. “Businesses will usually hire lion dance troupes to ensure a prosperous year.”


Justin Kwan, left of the police officer, and the lion dance performers at the Houston Shaolin Academy. The performers wear masks to prevent smoke inhalation during their performances.  |  Diana Nguyen/The Cougar

Kwan, part of the Houston Shaolin Academy, started lion dancing in 2006 after being encouraged by his Kung Fu brothers and sisters. Together, they performed at various Houston restaurants, offices, corporate events and even the NBA’s “Year of the Snake” celebration.

“I’ve been lion dancing for almost the last decade, teaching it for at least the last seven years,” Kwan said. “I consider it one of my passions and talents. I do think of myself as a relatively shy individual, but in the lion-head, all reservations are gone and I’m there to perform.”

Kwan said the audience is what makes his effort worth it.

“Our bigger performances include Hong Kong City Mall, where we’ve (been given) the prime time slots for the last two years because of the quality of our performance,” Kwan said. “This show alone usually gathers at least 1,000 spectators to watch us entertain them with our show. The cheering of the crowds and the excitement on childrens’ faces manages to make me smile every time, no matter how exhausting it may be.”

Kwan said celebrating the Lunar New Year helps him stay close to his Asian heritage.

“I feel that Lunar New Year is a great opportunity to learn about Asian culture, especially if you’re American-born but of Asian descent,” Kwan said. “I find it hard to admit that I’m extremely knowledgeable about my culture, but I do feel much closer to my Chinese roots when I celebrate Lunar New Year by performing for thousands of people every year.”

Kwan and the Houston Shaolin Academy will perform their lion dance to welcome the Lunar New Year tonight starting at 11:30 p.m. at the Texas Guandi Temple, 2089 Milby St.

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