City Council Celebrates Dawn of Lunar New Year

The Lion Dance is a traditional Chinese dance meant to bring good luck and fortune [photo by William Engel]
The Lion Dance is a traditional Chinese dance meant to bring good luck and fortune [photo by William Engel]

To Council Members Margaret Chin (D-Battery Park City, Chinatown) and Peter Koo (D-Queens), the dawning of the Lunar New Year was more than just a time to celebrate. It was a time to congratulate, a time to reflect, a time to mourn, and a time to plan for the future. 

The City Council held a Lunar New Year ceremony yesterday evening at the Council Chambers. Chin and Koo hosted the event alongside City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen). The evening also saw appearances from Council Members Mark Levine (D-Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville), Carlina Rivera (D-East Village, Gramercy Park) and Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), among others.

This marks the eleventh year that the City Council has hosted a Lunar New Year ceremony.

The ceremony began with a buffet dinner, consisting of chow fun, dumplings, pork buns and other succulent Chinese dishes. What followed was a series of award ceremonies and performances from Chinese musicians and dancers, interspersed with remarks from Chin, Koo and Johnson. The first performance of the evening was a “Lion dance”, a traditional Chinese dance performed by two individuals controlling a lion costume.

2020, as Chin and Koo explained, is the Year of the Rat. In Chinese folklore, the Rat was the winner of the “Great Race”, the story from which the Chinese zodiac originates. According to the story, the Jade Emperor organized a race and invited all the world’s animals to participate. Twelve animals – the ones that now comprise the zodiac – showed up at the starting line. The rat came in first, using its cunning to trick the ox into carrying it across the river leading to the finish line.

Council Members Peter Koo and Margaret Chin deliver opening remarks [photo by William Engel]

Today, those born in the Year of the Rat are said to be clever, shrewd and industrious. The Chinese also see the Rat as a symbol of wealth and prosperity – which, said Peter Koo, bodes well for the coming year.

“People born in this year are smart, resourceful, versatile and kind,” said Koo. “We prepare to take on the coming year with positive energy.”

The Council also chose three Asian-American New Yorkers to honor for their success and contributions to the City. The honorees were as follows: Tai Wang, co-founder of the light fixture company WAC Lighting; John Park, president of the Korean-American Community Empowerment Council; and Raymond Tsang, the youngest-ever president of the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Association.

“I have many nice things to say about our three incredibly distinctive honorees,” said Corey Johnson. “We are so proud that they are with us tonight, because they represent the best of New York City. I’m proud to honor them at the beginning of this new Lunar New Year. All three of them are making our city better every single day.”

But the evening was also tinged with a bit of sorrow. It came shortly after a 5-alarm fire at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), which resulted in the destruction of 85,000 artifacts. Of the items lost, only about 40,000 have digitized backups.

Regardless, Margaret Chin encouraged the attendees to stay positive.

“I think most of you know that we had a devastating fire at 70 Mulberry Street last week,” said Chin. “Our whole team has been working around the clock with the restoration effort. But that tragedy happened last year, according to the Lunar Calendar. It’s over. This is a new beginning, so we are going to work together to rebuild. In Chinese culture, crisis and opportunity are linked together.”

Chin concluded the ceremony by thanking the City Council for holding the Lunar New Year celebration for the eleventh year in a row.

“I’d like to thank all our staff for putting together this event every single year,” said Chin. “Thank you all for joining us, and I wish everyone a healthy, prosperous year. The Year of the Rat – number one, don’t forget!”

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