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Celebrate Lunar New Year at new event in East Austin on Sunday

Lunar New Year kicked off on Tuesday, but unlike Western new year, which is centered around a midnight ball drop on the first of the year, the turning of the calendar celebrated throughout East Asia is a two-week festival. Chinese zodiac signs are marked by animals and 2022 festivities welcome the Year of the Tiger.  

“In Asia, you would take a whole week off,” Austin watercolor artist Kathy Phan said on an Austin360 Instagram Live broadcast on Thursday. For the second week you would still celebrate, but might begin working lightly, she said. 

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Alongside Pei Sim, owner of the stationary shop Paper and Craft Pantry, Phan is the co-founder of a new Lunar New Year celebration that takes place on Sunday from noon to 4 at Springdale General in East Austin. The free, family-friendly event will spotlight 20 vendors, all of whom are Asian women. It will feature special foods, a story time with “E is For Egg Tart” author Jessica Lam and a performance by Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team. 

Lunar New Year is celebrated in many East Asian countries. In Vietnam it’s known as Tết. In Korea, it’s Seollal. “In certain countries in Asia, where the country doesn't necessarily celebrate Lunar New Year as a whole, quite often the Chinese community within that nation will still celebrate,” Phan said.  

Kathy Phan, left, and Pei Sim bought matching red jumpsuits to celebrate Lunar New Year. Wearing red during the celebrations is considered good luck in many parts of Asia.

Growing up near Houston, Phan’s family recognized the holiday in several ways. 

“Right before Lunar New Year, there would be massive cleaning, like epic cleaning,” she said. “Everything has to be spotless, because you want to sweep away the bad luck from last year, so that you can welcome in this year’s good luck.”

They would also cut their hair to “cut all of the bad luck away,” she said.  

The color red is said to bring good luck during the season. “My grandmother was extremely superstitious. So if you did not come wearing red, she would not allow you in the house,” Phan said. 

White and black, colors associated with mourning in Asia, are considered bad luck. If you showed up at Phan’s grandmother’s in black “you would be stuck outside, like you are excommunicated for quite a while,” she said.   

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Austin’s Asian American community has celebrated Lunar New Year for generations, mostly in North Austin. 

“Those celebrations are very traditional. They've been going on for decades. They usually are centered around a supermarket or a larger Chinese restaurant,” Phan said. 

This event highlights Asian creatives, artists like Phan and Sim who have chosen a career path that “is very frowned upon in the Asian community traditionally, especially in the immigrant community,” she said. 

“This is a child friendly, kid friendly family event for the community. We want to highlight that this is okay. And it should be celebrated,” Phan said. “It's okay that you weren't a doctor, lawyer, engineer, all of those things.” 

Phan was inspired to bring the event to the city’s Eastside after Huston-Tillotson University hosted a Stop Asian Hate rally last year. The event was in response to escalating racist attacks against Asians in Austin and around the country.

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“Dr. Colette Pierce Burnett invited the Asian community to come and rally together in solidarity. And I think that that was really important,” Phan said. 

As the community came together to stand with Asians in a moment of strife, Phan hopes all sorts of people will gather to honor the colorful traditions Asians have brought to America.    

“Yes, stop Asian hate, absolutely,” she said. “But also let us celebrate Asian joy.”

The event benefits Austin Asian Family Support Services.