Celebrate The Year Of The Monkey With Pittsburgh's Asian Community

Feb 8, 2016

Acrobatic lion dance teams and traditional Chinese melodies entertained attendees at this past Saturday’s celebration of the beginning of the Chinese New Year in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. In the 12-year Chinese zodiac rotation, 2016 is the Year of the Red Fire Monkey. Essential Pittsburgh assistant producer Katie Blackley spoke with Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition executive director Marian Lien about what to expect during the two weeks of festivities.

Lien said since the Chinese New Year began about 4,000 years ago, family has always been a central part of the celebration. In and around China, individuals will travel back to their hometowns to be with their families, in what Lien described as a “mass human migration.” Recently, however, because of the Chinese diaspora, Lien said immigrants are finding new ways to pay homage to their traditions.

“They do so with their neighborhood associations, their community groups, basically their new family,” she said.

Among the many significant meals made to celebrate the holiday, dumplings play one of the largest roles. According to Lien, each family has a secret recipe they pass down through generations and the process of creating the meal unites them.

“Just the idea of making is a gathering of family, but the name dumpling also means to connect,” she said. “This is connecting the old year to the new year.”

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, Lien said the Chinese New Year is more about settling old debts. She also provided some simple ways to ensure good fortune in the New Year and prevent bad luck. For example, it’s bad luck to carry scissors for fear that you might “cut” any good fortune.

This year’s two-week celebration begins with the Chinese New Year Feb. 8 and ends with the Lantern Festival on Feb. 21. In Squirrel Hill, Lien said the community will sponsor a parade, featuring UPMC Orthopaedic Surgery Department chair Dr. Freddie Fu and City Chief Innovation and Performance Officer Debra Lam.  

While the festivities are expected to be fun, Lien said this year is important to the local community, because it’s the first time the city has declared official recognition of the holiday. Mayor Bill Peduto declared Feb. 6 to be Chinese-American Day and Councilman Corey O’Connor sponsored a proclamation marking the beginning and end of the Lunar New Year.

“I’m very excited about these two proclamations, primarily because the Chinese have been here in the Pittsburgh region for over 100 years,” Lien said. “So to have this recognition, to have this affirmation, is something we’re all very proud of as a Chinese community.”

For more information on the sponsored events, check out the websites of the coalition and its partners.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.