Christina Tse remembers Chinese New Year as "a very big day" in her homeland, and Tony Toy, who was also born in China, recalls how the dancing dragon parade and fireworks made a huge impression on him as a kid.
And although Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year to a lesser extent than the Chinese, according to Woosung Choi of Niles' , the store is giving away bowls of a traditional soup to the first 100 seniors who arrive after 10 a.m. They'll also be holding a traditional game in the mall, probably in the afternoon, he said.
They're all celebrating Chinese New Year, which falls today (Jan. 23), much earlier than its usual annual appearance. It typically arrives in February, but the date is determined by the lunar calendar and varies quite a bit.
"In China, we celebrate with a family dinner the day before," recalled Christina Tse, who, with her husband Fu Man "Luis" Tse, own But because the China-born couple emigrated to Brazil and then came to Chicago 22 years ago, they no longer celebrate it to a great extent.
Red envelopes and lucky money
Their son Kent Tse knows the custom, though.
"People pass out red envelopes with lucky money. It symbolizes good fortune for the year," said Kent Tse, who attended and Purdue University. "In the U.S., people celebrate with fireworks and dragon dancing. In China, it's more like how people in the U.S. celebrate New Years here."
The dragon dancing made an impression on Tony Toy, who came from China with his parents when he was a young child. When he and his five siblings were kids, their dad would take them to Chicago's Chinatown every year for the Chinese New Year parade.
Assuaging the bad luck
"When the dragon (a paper animal animated by human dancers underneath) came down the street, the store owners would have to offer it a bribe, like a cabbage," Toy recalled. "The dragon pretends to eat it. It's like a blessing, as if the dragon says 'thank you for the food. You should have good luck in business this year.'"
Then the store or restaurant sets off a string of ear-popping firecrackers, to scare away any bad luck, added Toy, who is a board member with the Niles Baseball League.
It's also a custom to pay all your debts by New Year, Toy said, and to wear red for health and wealth on Chinese New Year. And people eat candy to remind themselves to say only sweet and nice things on the holiday, he added.
Koreans' lunar new year
The Korean-owned Super H Mart will have some low-key celebrations Monday.
"The lunar new year is not as big a holiday in Korea as it is in China," explained Woosung Choi, asset management manager for the store. "In Korea for lunar new year, families gather and eat rice cake soup."
For that reason, the store will provide the special soup to the first 100 seniors, age 65 or over, who arrive at or after 10 a.m. today (Monday Jan. 23).
The store is also sponsoring a game traditionally played on lunar new year. Called Jae Gi Chae Ge, Choi said it would be played in the mall area near the checkout registers.
The game involves players kicking a small soft ball, similar to a badminton shuttlecock, with their feet.
Jonathan Chung, a banker with in Niles, knows both the game and the soup.
From the time he was four or five years old, he and his brother would make a formal bow, on their knees, to their parents on lunar new year, said Chung, who is of Korean descent.
"They'd give us an envelope with money, which meant, 'I hope this year is a good year,'" Chung recalled. The family then sat down to the traditional soup of rice cakes, dumplings, shredded beef, seaweed, eggs and green onions.