Download audio (MP3)
Happy New Year
Ricky Choi rings in the lunar New Year, Korean style.
By Ricky Choi
"Are you Chinese?" asked the four year old.
"I'm not Chinese, I'm Korean!" my daughter replied with a combination of firmness and derision that only a preschooler could get away with. Excited about Lunar New Year's Day, her classmate was hoping to connect with an Asian student in the class. Despite my daughter's response, her classmate's inquiry was more appropriate than she knew. Lunar New Year is coming, and it is an exciting time for many communities -- not just Chinese ones -- to celebrate.
For Koreans, Lunar New Year, or Sul na, is a time to gather with family in your hometown. People dress up in traditional clothes and revel in the joy and nostalgia of playing traditional games. In an expression of gratitude and respect, children perform kneeling deep bows to the generations before them. And in return they receive words of wisdom and are rewarded with small envelopes containing crisp bills.
And of course what is a good holiday without traditional foods. Koreans enjoy eating a delicious rice cake soup in beef broth. The white oval rice cakes represent a fresh start in the new year -- something we could all use.
Of the 12 animals in the Lunar calendar, this year marks the year of the snake -- the black water snake to be exact. Contrary to popular Western symbolism, many Asian cultures view the snake as a symbol of longevity, good fortune and fertility. This is especially meaningful for my family as we prepare for the birth of our son this year. Our little snake bundle of joy will be welcomed by his sisters, a pig and a rat. I am sure he will develop his own opinion about how pig and rat-like his siblings really are.
Those born in the year of the snake are described as determined, intellectual and insightful -- fine attributes for a child of mine. Some notable figures born in the year of the snake include Abraham Lincoln and Ben Bernanke, which sounds like good company.
But most importantly, the Lunar New Year's Day is a time for a fresh start, regardless of ethnic background. Remember those January New Year's resolutions that were abandoned after the first week? Well guess what, you have a second chance.
May you and your family have a Happy Lunar New Year.
With a Perspective, I'm Ricky Choi.
Ricky Choi is a Bay Area pediatrician and proud father of two, soon to be three.