February 26, 2024

Lunar New Year traditions through the lens of three photographers; See pictures

We asked three photographers to document how they celebrate the holiday with loved ones, from gathering for dinner with traditional Chinese dishes, decorating their homes with decorations, and paying respects to ancestors and deceased relatives.

Caroline Xia

Xia is a photographer and filmmaker born and raised in Queens, New York. Their work focuses on vividly amplifying stories about East Asian Americans and children of immigrants. Xia documented their New Year’s Eve dinner that they hosted with their sibling and a few close friends.

Oil sizzling over a whole fish

Leslie pours seasoned hot oil over a whole steamed fish.

Caroline Xia

They have a tradition of hanging decorations around their front door to bring good wishes for the new year. They also cooked traditional Lunar New Year dishes, including whole steamed fish with hot spiced oil on top, roasted duck, fried noodles, fried pork dumplings, yu-choy and tomato and egg.

“The recipes all come from my grandmother,” Xia said. “We watched my grandmother cook for us growing up and tried to absorb as much as we could. We will still call her during cooking to ask her questions about her recipes and techniques.”

“The fish is the most important part for us because my grandmother eats this at every Chinese New Year dinner; it feels like the centerpiece of the meal,” she added. “The point is that the fish must be a whole fish to symbolize abundance.”

Decorations are hung above the front door in honor of the Lunar New Year

Leslie hangs a Chinese New Year sign on the side of their front door.

Caroline Xia

Ramona Jingru Wang

Wang is a contemporary photographer based in New York City. Her work explores how images intervene in our reality and create connections between people and space, and explores how we care for each other through photography.

Wang celebrates the Lunar New Year with her friends.

“We will make a coconut chicken broth stew at home, and we will also go to a karaoke bar to sing Chinese songs,” she said. “My family and I always love to eat hot pot on vacation because it’s easy to cook for a large group of people and everyone gets to choose what they want to eat.”

“The coconut chicken broth stew we ate this year comes from Hainan, southern China, where it is famous for its seacoasts and mountain chickens,” Wang continued. “I grew up in southern China, so it was a common option for hot pot as a kid.”

Hot pot is served in a bowl with various ingredients

Hainan Coconut Broth Hotpot is served in a bowl.

Ramona Jingru Wang

Wang said the Lunar New Year is important to her because it allows her to connect with family and friends through a shared cultural experience.

“Celebrating the Lunar New Year allows me to connect with my family and friends, and usually it is a time of nostalgia and remembrance of both our personal and collective past growing up in our shared culture,” Wang said. “Celebrating and sharing my culture with my community makes me feel grounded and part of something bigger than just me.”

Lunar New Year card being signed

A New Year’s greeting card drawn by Meiting.

Ramona Jingru Wang

Her favorite tradition is watching the live broadcast of the Spring Festival Celebration Gala on TV on New Year’s Eve.

“It is a television program that every Chinese family watches at the same time,” she said. “Although the performances are usually cringe-worthy, I thought it was a very strange and beautiful feeling to experience with a billion people together in one evening.”

People sit on the floor in front of the TV while eating a hot pot

Friends enjoy hotpot while watching the popular Taiwanese TV show ‘Kangsi Coming’.

Ramona Jingru Wang

Sam Lee

Lee is a Chinese-American documentary photographer based in New York City. Through photography and writing, she explores religious expressions, their intersections with politics, and topics such as human rights, social justice and heritage.

Lee documented her time at her uncle, Szuning Lee’s, home in Chinatown for the Lunar New Year. She described her connection to Chinatown, where her father and uncle had grown up and her grandmother owned a fabric shop on Mulberry Street.

“I view my family’s roots here as a gift that I hope to build on, and I want to make my home here by creating my own community and finding a place in others,” she said.

Lee said her favorite part of the holiday is, “Bringing friends together and sharing in my culture is so special to me, even though I’m always learning about it myself.”

“It’s a time where I feel so at home in New York,” she said. “These things also make me feel connected to my Chinese grandmothers and think of the experiences and qualities we shared.”

Altar with photos of parents, decorations and various types of food

Szuning’s altar to his parents and Buddhist deities.

Sam Lee

Burning incense and laying out the altars is Szuning’s favorite tradition for the new year.

“I always get the feeling that the process and the action provided a path to my parents and ancestors. This is what my mother instilled in us,” he said.

He described how he set up his altar with fruit, pastries, a chicken and roast pork to honor his parents and Buddhist gods.

“I will start the day by lighting incense and offering prayers to my parents,” Szuning said. “I will ask them and the Buddhist gods for their protection and grant good health, long life, prosperity, happiness and happiness to my son, his mother, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, my three nieces, my sister… the family from my in-laws, cousins, and of course my friends and loved ones.”

Man prays in front of family altar in apartment

Sam Lee

“Maybe it is foolish, but from the time I was a child, I took the time to list one by one everyone I thought to ask the Buddhas, and now my parents to grant them protection,” he added to it. “I was afraid that if I missed someone, something bad would happen to him or her and that I was somehow responsible, so this was the only thing I was sure I did with care. would add to the list all day if I thought of someone else.”

Sam looks out the window and smiles at the apartment

Szuning in his Chinatown apartment.

Sam Lee

“We didn’t celebrate Christmas, so this was our Christmas,” Szuning said, recalling his childhood memories of the Lunar New Year. “It was the only day we could be Chinese and not feel like we were left out.”

He added: “Most importantly, it was also the only day my brother and I were allowed to skip school.”

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