Celebrating the Year of the Dragon

This week, billions of people from every corner of the world, including right here in Beverly Hills, will turn a page and begin writing a new chapter.

On Saturday, Feb. 10 we celebrate and welcome the Lunar New Year – the Year of the Dragon.

In Chinese culture, the dragon represents strength, intelligence and good luck, which makes this mythical creature naturally adept at fighting off evil spirits. It is believed that those born in the Year of the Dragon share similar traits to their zodiac animal – confidence, courage and wisdom.

Lunar New Year is a cherished celebration that blends the rich tapestry of traditions from my cultural roots with the vibrant atmosphere of Beverly Hills. Lunar New Year traces its origins to ancient China, where farmers relied on the moon’s guidance for agricultural cycles, marking the start of a new year on the lunisolar calendar and welcoming the arrival of spring. 

The Lunar New Year is steeped in tradition, and its celebrations are rich with symbolism that has inspired and guided generations for centuries.

As a Chinese American, this holiday has special significance for me. I’m delighted to share some of my favorite Lunar New Year traditions and ways to enjoy the celebration.

Red Envelopes

One of the most treasured New Year traditions is gifting red envelopes with lucky money. Signifying good luck, red envelopes are given to family, friends and colleagues to express well wishes for the New Year. Each year, East West Bank designs red envelopes that are given out at our branches. The imagery of this year’s Year of the Dragon envelopes symbolizes strength and prosperity and reminds us of our capacity to soar further toward a brighter future. 

Dining Out

Another wonderful New Year tradition is celebrating new beginnings with friends and family.

In the heart of Beverly Hills, my go-to spot for celebrating Lunar New Year is Joss Cuisine at 9919 Santa Monica Blvd., a small and elegant restaurant named after the Chinese word for “luck.” Joss was founded by Cecile Tang, a film director who was a trailblazer for socially critical art cinema in Hong Kong. Her unique journey includes writing and directing a musical comedy about the rise and fall of Madame Mao, titled “I, CHING,” which was a fascinating exploration of history, combining entertainment and social critique.

Cecile brought her creative spirit to the United States in 1979 and started Joss in 1987. While I love their regular menu, the restaurant’s special Lunar New Year dishes add an extra layer of festivity to the celebration. One dish that holds a special place in my heart and is expertly executed by Chef Golo is the turnip cake, or “Loh Bak Go.” This Cantonese delight, typically enjoyed at dim sum restaurants throughout the year, is considered auspicious and is a must-have for the New Year. Turnip cake is made with white radish, preserved sausages, shiitake mushrooms, dried seafood and rice flour—a delicious blend symbolizing good fortune. While I enjoy cooking and have even set up an assembly line at home to make turnip cake for friends, the labor-intensive process often leads me to Chef Golo whose expertise and technique are impeccable.


The Huntington’s Chinese Garden
Image courtesy of East West Bank

Cultural Exploration

Beyond indulging in festive foods, Lunar New Year is a time for cultural exploration. One of the most remarkable places to experience Chinese culture in Southern California is the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library in San Marino.

This exquisite garden features a stunning lake, graceful pavilions and stone bridges set against a wooded backdrop of mature oaks and pines. It is one of the finest classical-style Chinese gardens outside of China and was meticulously constructed by craftsmen from the Suzhou region. Unique features of the garden include towering limestone rocks that are believed to embody energy-like ethers, or “qi,” and the intricate hand-laid paving patterns which are created from clay tile, shards of limestone and river rocks of various colors.

The Huntington also hosts a Chinese New Year Festival, which is another way to experience Lunar New Year celebrations. This year’s festival takes place Feb. 10-11 and features lion dancers, a mask-changing artist, martial arts demonstrations, music, and arts and crafts demonstrations. This is a special opportunity for families and friends to come together, revel in cultural performances and embrace the festive spirit.

As we come together to embrace the upcoming Lunar New Year, powered by the formidable energy of the dragon, I look forward to the warmth of family reunions, the joy of sharing auspicious dishes, and the beauty of cultural traditions that make this festival truly special.

As with all new beginnings, the Lunar New Year is an opportunity to experience something new, make new connections and reflect on our collective potential to reach further. 

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