As Seattle’s Asian community celebrates the Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Rooster, some traditions stay, while others evolve.

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Rooster decorations. Red envelopes. Bags of red candy. For many in Seattle’s Asian community, celebrations are just beginning for Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Rooster, which lands on Jan. 28 this year.

Hold up, didn’t we just celebrate New Year’s Day on Jan. 1? Yes — on the Gregorian calendar, used by much of the Western world. But many parts of Asia, including China, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia and Korea, follow the lunisolar calendar. Hence, Lunar New Year is marked by the second new moon after winter solstice.

Going back centuries, the holiday has been a time to gather with family to eat and celebrate surviving the hardships of winter, honor ancestors and look forward to the start of spring.

What’s your Chinese Zodiac sign?

Note: Lunar New Year moves between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. If you were born in January or February, you can check your zodiac year at the website below.

Rat: Born in 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924

Ox: Born in 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925

Tiger: Born in 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926

Rabbit: Born in 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927

Dragon: Born in 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928

Snake: Born in 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929

Horse: Born in 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930

Goat: Born in 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931

Monkey: Born in 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932

Rooster: Born in 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933

Dog: Born in 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934

Pig: Born in 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935


Because Seattle has such a rich history of Asian immigration, this holiday has been part of the city for quite some time — ever since the first Chinese workers arrived in the 1800s. But the traditions immigrants have brought over continue to change, and sometimes fade, over time — especially as second- and third-generation immigrants settle down in a completely different culture.

Which raises the questions: What is the value of tradition? How can, and should, it be preserved?

For Seattle’s Asian community and beyond, public events for the Lunar New Year allow individuals to explore these questions for themselves.

Between the Vietnamese festival Tet in Seattle at Seattle Center, a Lunar New Year Gala at the University of Washington and the Chinatown International District’s Lunar New Year festivities, there are plenty of opportunities for community members to get involved with the holiday and its traditions.

On a smaller scale, locals are preparing their own private celebrations as well. Among them is Mark Do, 60, who spent a recent Saturday browsing Lunar New Year products at Lam’s Seafood Market in Little Saigon.

For Do, originally from Vietnam, this is a time each year to gather with family, pay tribute to ancestors and start the year fresh. Eating traditional foods with the family, he said, “brings back our memories” from celebrations past. Nostalgia, in other words, colors some of those traditions.

University of Washington sophomores Kexin Xu and Danyun Chen are also preparing to ring in the Year of the Rooster. Both international students from China, they are unable to spend the Lunar New Year with family, but plan to decorate their apartment and gather with friends for dinner.

Though distance prevents them from carrying out traditions in full, it doesn’t diminish the importance of the holiday for them. Chen said if she could go back to China for Lunar New Year, “I would still want to go back, definitely.”

But for the children and grandchildren of immigrants, those traditions can start to fade. Do says his kids are scattered around the United States now and will not be joining him for Lunar New Year. A big part of that, of course, is logistical — people don’t get time off work here for this holiday, whereas they get about a week in China and Vietnam.

However, it also speaks to a concern immigrants often face: that aspects of their ethnic and cultural heritage — including language and traditions — will diminish as future generations settle into a different culture. Do says while his kids still retain some Vietnamese Lunar New Year traditions, they “have a tendency to more adapt to the Western style.”

Maya Hayashi, education specialist at Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, said that when she’s talked to folks about their immigration experience, they say part of it is figuring out which celebrations they want to keep. “For a lot of second- and third-generation kids, it becomes a matter of asking those questions themselves and looking to see what their family celebrates … it really requires a lot of people to look inwardly.”

The Lunar New Year events throughout the city can help, too — they are designed to preserve and share these traditions with people both familiar and new to the holiday.

Monisha Singh, events and programs manager at Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, helps plan the annual event in the neighborhood, featuring traditional performances like a lion dance (to scare away bad energy), as well as a variety of foods from local businesses. She said it draws people of all generations, including lots of families with younger children and grandparents with their grandkids — who then begin to form their own traditions.

While these may not be the same traditions as those of their ancestors, identifying in a personal way with the holiday can be powerful in and of itself.

“For a lot of folks, maybe Lunar New Year is the one time you’re able to be really excited about who you are and your traditions and celebrate your heritage,” Hayashi said. “This might be the one time that you have to come back to the family.”


This story was corrected on Jan. 28 to reflect that Tibet is an autonomous region in China.