Happy Lunar New Year, dear traveler! Welcome to the Year of the Ox, a lunar animal that symbolizes diligence, patience, and hard work. 🐂 For those of you who are unfamiliar with this holiday, Lunar New Year commemorates the new cycle of the lunar calendar. It is typically observed in February by people in nations across Southeast and East Asia (and by Asian diaspora worldwide!) — from Mongolia to Indonesia to Taiwan to the Philippines to Tibet and beyond. (Other Asian countries, such as Thailand and Japan, celebrate their New Year’s Days on different dates.)
So many beautiful, diverse customs characterize the New Year. (Some of which I have mentioned before on my blog!) Many countries share customs, and others have unique customs of their own.
To name a few:
|Tibet||The Tibetan Lunar New Year, Losar, involves two main parts: a farewell to the negativity of the past and a welcoming of the fortune to come.|
|Vietnam||One Tết tradition includes Dựng Cây Nêu, or the raising of a New Year Tree. The tree is a marker for ancestors’ spirits that travel back from the afterlife to celebrate the New Year.|
|South Korea||Seollal lasts three days and is a time for family gatherings. During Seollal festivities, families eat food such as tteokguk to symbolize beginning the new year with a clean mind and body.|
|Singapore||Singapore’s Lunar New Year is influenced by its multicultural population. On the seventh day of the New Year, loved ones gather to toss up the ingredients of raw fish salad, bringing in good luck, in a custom called lo hei.|
|Thailand||Songkran, which begins on April 13, includes an epic water fight. Celebrators also ferry sand to Buddhist temples, which is meant to replenish the sand that has been carried away on the soles of shoes throughout the previous year.|
|Cambodia||The Cambodian New Year starts on April 14. Moha Sangkran, the first day of the New Year, inaugurates the New Angels who will watch over the world in the months to come. A ceremony called Pithi Srang Preah, which occurs on Leung Sakk, the third day of the New Year, involves giving special showers to Buddha statues.|
|Mongolia||On Tsagaan Sar, which means “white moon” in Mongolian, the hostess of a Mongolia household throws the contents of a cup of tea with milk in all directions, offering it to the gods. Celebrants often visit their entire families on this day.|
|Myanmar||Kicking off on April 13, Thingyan festivities include the nga hlut pwe, or fish-releasing ceremony, in which participants rescue fish from drying lakes, then free them into larger bodies of water, bidding them, “I release you once, you release me ten times.”|
|Malaysia||On Penang Island in Malaysia, the Kek Lok Si Temple is covered with millions of colorful lamps and lights to salute the new year. In Kuala Lumpur, fireworks and music fill the air.|
|Philippines||In the Philippines, families eat tikoy, or New Year’s cake, which symbolizes familial unity, as well as pancit, noodles that signify a long life. Celebrants light fireworks and bolster this noise and cheer with horns and cooking pots.|
|Indonesia||During Imlek, families visit the Sikunir Hill in Central Java for the One Thousand-Lantern Festival, releasing a thousand lanterns into the sky. The roads from Jalan Slamet Riyadi to Purwosari to Gladag are closed for Car Free Night so that the New Year can be welcomed.|
|Laos||From April 14 to 16, Pi Mai in Luang Prabang of northern Laos includes a parade in Prabang Buddha is carried on a golden palanquin. In a beauty contest called Nang Sangkhane, seven contestants, representing the seven daughters of King Kabinlaphom, compete for a beauty-queen crown.|
|Hong Kong||In Hong Kong, people can visit the Wishing Tree at Lam Tsuen, tie a wish to an orange and a piece of string, and throw it high into the tree, hoping for their wishes to come tree in the New Year.|
|Taiwan||The Taiwanese Lunar New Year involves games of mahjong, delicious meals with family members, and hanging spring couplets to the front doors of homes.|
(Feel free to correct me if there are any inaccuracies in the events I outlined above, or if there is anything else I can include. 🙌🏼 I’d be more than happy to add to this list!)
I absolutely love Lunar New Year! Here in the states, my friends and I always look forward to good food (so much food!) and red envelopes (which our parents will hold for us until we are older, for investment 🙈). There’s always such a lovely sense of community whenever Lunar New Year rolls around. I am filled with a renewed sense of optimism and hope.
To celebrate this momentous day, here are twelve (a lucky number for 2021!) books that feature/contain Lunar New Year in their stories! I will include four children’s books, three middle-grade books, two young-adult books, and three adult books. 💌
1. New Clothes for New Year’s Day by Hyun-Joo Bae
The New Year is the start of everything new… Follow a young Korean girl as she dresses and prepares for celebrating the Lunar New Year.
- A picture book about the traditional hanbok attire and the Korean New Year!
- The illustrations are absolutely stunning, and I adore the art style. Look at how vibrant and detailed the cover is! The interior of the book is the same.
2. Filipino Celebrations: A Treasury of Feasts and Festivals by Liana Romulo
In the Philippines, people love to celebrate — holidays are filled with music and dancing, sometimes with colorful costumes, and always with great food! Rich with detailed watercolors and cultural flavor, Filipino Celebrations: A Treasury of Feasts and Festivals makes major holidays (like Christmas) and family gatherings (like weddings and birthdays) come alive.
From these pages, children will learn the history of each holiday, its cultural influences, the varied ways in which people celebrate in different regions of the Philippines, special customs and food, key words and phrases (in English and Tagalog), and more. Games, songs, and other activities invite young readers to join in the fun. New and familiar holidays take on a special flavor as children learn about the diverse cultures that make up this wonderful island nation. Perfect for Filipino-American families looking to share the unique culture of the Philippines, educators interested in promoting multiculturalism in the classroom, or anyone interested in the country, Filipino Celebrations will encourage children ages five to ten to participate and learn while having fun.
Celebrations and festivals include:
- Mga Kaarawan — Birthdays
- Semana Santa — Holy Week
- Mga Barrio Fiestas — Town Festivals
- Mga Binyag — Baptisms
- Araw ng Kalayaan — Independence Day and more!
- A lovely book about all sorts of Filipino holidays that includes a description of the Filipino Lunar New Year! Perfect for the kids! 🥰
- I really loved Romulo’s other children’s book, Filipino Children’s Favorite Stories, which I included in my 2020 reading wrap-up.
3. Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng
It is the eve of Chinese New Year. Lanterns are hung in the shopping malls of Singapore and Yao is preparing to wake the ancient sky dragon, Shen Long, from his year-long sleep. From the moment Shen Long opens his great amber eyes and unfurls his silver-blue tail, Yao will be propelled on a magical journey through the skies of Singapore to battle the bad luck of the previous year and usher in the good. Will he succeed? Will his grandfather watch over him and protect him from harm? A beautiful story of a Chinese festival and its symbolism for Chinese communities everywhere, told from the perspective of Yao, the dragon dancer.
- A story that takes place on Lunar New Year’sDay in Singapore! The dragon dances during Lunar New Year festivals are always so breathtaking.
- The illustrations, too. Asian picture books always have the best art!
4. I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne
From New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne and illustrator Julia Kuo, here is I Dream of Popo. This delicate, emotionally rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.
I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.
I wave at Popo before I board my flight.
I talk to Popo from across the sea.
I tell Popo about my adventures.
When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.
- A story about a Taiwanese immigrant that opens with beautiful descriptions of Lunar New Year traditions and meals.
- Incredibly touching and personal!
5. The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.
Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon — and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year.
With Alex and other unlikely allies at her side, Faryn sets off on a daring quest across Chinatowns. But becoming the Heaven Breaker will require more sacrifices than she first realized… What will Faryn be willing to give up to claim her destiny?
- Begins with a “demon invasion” on Lunar New Year’s Eve festival! 😉
- I love this book! There are an excellent array of dragons within it, as promised, as well as deities lying hidden in the Chinatowns of America.
6. Inside out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food… and the strength of her very own family.
- A favorite of many of my friends, when we were in middle school. Well-deserving of its acclaim!
- Inside Out & Back Again is a novel written in verse, and contains poetry about Tết traditions.
7. The Star Maker by Laurence Yep
If only Artie had kept his mouth shut.
But his mean cousin Petey was putting him down, so Artie started bragging.
Now he has to come up with enough money to buy firecrackers for all his cousins by the Lunar New Year.
Luckily, there’s one person he can count on… Uncle Chester!
- A nostalgic and lighthearted book about Chinese New Year!
- Firecrackers, family, and more! 🙇🏻♀️
Young Adult Books
8. American Panda by Gloria Chao
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth — that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
- Mentions Lunar New Year and hóngbāo!
- The novel also explores the effect of family expectations on students and coming into your own as an individual.
9. A pho Love Story by Loan Le
If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.
If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.
For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.
But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.
Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?
- One of my most anticipated reads of 2021. 💛 Here’s a review of this book on the blog of a friend of mine, Trin!
- Scrumptious descriptions of food and awesome Tết traditions!
10. The Year of the Crocodile
Tina Chen and Blake Reynolds have been together for almost a year. In that time, they’ve grown closer on just about every front. The one exception? Blake’s father has never let anything stop him. Tina’s parents have never let anyone push them around. And they’ve never met.
That’s about to change. But don’t worry — fireworks are traditional at Chinese New Years.
- A romance novel! The pure romance genre rarely includes people of color, so it’s absolutely wonderful that this one has an Asian protagonist. And this book is #OwnVoices as well!
- Also, that last line in the synopsis. 😏 (Just kidding! Unless. 😳)
11. Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong — Eurasian — and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love… Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.
- Heartbreaking coming-of-age historical-fantasy with mixed-race Asian representation.
- The entire novel encompasses scenes of Lunar New Year events!
12. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including:
- “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards),
- “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner),
- “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist),
- “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists),
- “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist),
- “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history,
- “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).
- My favorite short story collection from one of my favorite authors. (This book was also featured in my 2020 reading wrap-up!)
- Many of its short stories feature Asian protagonists, and some of the tales in this collection, such as The Paper Menagerie and All the Flavors, explore Lunar New Year!
And there you have it, traveler!
- Do you have any family traditions or practices?
- What are your favorite novels involving Lunar New Year?
- Tell me about Lunar New Year merriment in your community!
Thank you for reading! May this New Year be joyful, prosperous, and replete, dear traveler. I send you my love — especially if you are currently away from your friends and family. Please take care of yourself, stay safe, and do something you enjoy today. ♥
Once again, have a happy, happy Lunar New Year!
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Her Stories: more book reviews! 👀👀👀👀
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖