Snapshot: Lunar New Year Celebrations

Year of the Dog means cute puppies ahead

There's nothing like a preposterously cute puppy to lift one's spirits, but the lunisolar calendar's Year of the Dog (which began with Feb. 16's new moon) goes much deeper than that.

Though the 12-year zodiac cycle originated in ancient China, emigration over centuries helped spread and standardize the customs throughout Asia and its neighbors, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and the Philippines, among others. To this day, each culture puts its own spin on the Lunar New Year, but all are bound by its underlying fresh-start, pacifist ethos.

Elaine Hsu, president of the Buddha's Light International Association at Xiang Yun Temple in Northwest Austin, summarized it during Sunday's Lunar New Year festivities: "We wish this new year is peaceful and prosperous and blissful for everyone – for our whole society, the whole country, the whole world. Especially lately because ... it's been a little rough."

"Snapshot" spent the weekend documenting several such celebrations, exploring how their elements are not only important as cultural time capsules, but likewise as ingredients in the glue that helps unite an increasingly globalized world.

Buddhist monks lead chanting on Sunday morning at Xiang Yun Temple to usher in the new year: “I brought my two young daughters here because I don’t want them to forget where they came from,” says Austin resident David Chaing, who hails from Taiwan and grew up Buddhist. “On Chinese New Year – especially Year of the Dog, which is about loyalty to family – I wanted to expose them to this because of what it teaches: Be kind and honest to everybody [and] be polite to your elders.”

A master calligrapher finishes a Year of the Dog blessing Sunday morning at Xiang Yun Temple: “We strive to protect all sentient beings and we strive to pass this peer kindness from generation to generation.”

A family dons traditional new year garb (áo dài) during the Vietnamese American Community of Austin, Texas’ Tet Festival at KIPP Austin Collegiate: “Growing up in Vietnam, wearing new clothes on the first of the year to the grandparents’ house was a sign of respect,” reflects Hoa Ngo (second from right), alongside her husband and three children. “We did it then [and] today because it increases the chances of good luck for everyone.”

Richard Nguyen of Dallas’ Vovinam Viet Vo Dao chapter demonstrates Vietnamese martial arts during Sunday’s Tet Festival at KIPP Austin Collegiate: “[These martial arts] spread the awareness of the [Vietnamese] culture – that we have our own techniques – and help build spiritual and physical well-being,” he says. “We live by the three O’s: open mind, open heart, and open arms. Everyone is trying to improve themselves and make resolutions for the new year, and by connecting with the philosophy of this discipline, I believe we’re increasing those chances for everyone.”

Wu Chow co-owner C.K. Chin holds puppies from Austin Pets Alive! during the restaurant’s Year of the Dog “puppy party” held Monday evening at the restaurant. “There’s a saying that if we could be more like our dogs, we’d probably be better off as humans,” he muses. “Having these puppies here absolutely reiterates the family and community ties of Lunar New Year. That’s how we wanna begin the new year – people coming by, bringing family together, talking with each other, and enjoying this opportunity to start off by giving back.”

Dumplings served during Wu Chow’s new year celebration hold more significance than simple deliciousness. “Everything good in my life happened around food,” recalls Chin. “My grandmother [Wu] cooked for us, we ate together, we celebrated with food, we mourned with food, we discussed with food ... and all of it is based on bringing good fortune. Dumplings look very similar [to] ancient gold ingots ... little gold doubloons they had before coins. So the idea was to have a giant plateful of them to symbolize ‘I hope the gold keeps flowin’ this year.’”

Lion dancers wind through Wu Chow’s lobby Monday night, accepting red envelopes filled with money to bring prosperity in the new year: “The luck lions scare away evil spirits – like a sage cleanse,” says Wu Chow co-owner C.K. Chin. “A lot of it is tied in with martial arts discipline ... an alignment of yourself that’s meant to extend to others for a fresh start in the new year. And yeah, it’s also just fun, but I think that at any given moment ... we can use all the edge we can get.”

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Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, Elaine Hsu, Buddha's Light International Association, Xiang Yun Temple, David Chaing, Vietnamese American Community of Austin, Texas, Tet Festival, KIPP Austin Collegiate, Hoa Ngo, Wu Chow, C.K. Chin, Austin Pets Alive!

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