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Asia Institute: Crane House Celebrates the Lunar New Year of the Dragon

By Joel Buno

Photographs provided by Asian Institute-Crane House

Every year, on the eve of January 1st, Louisvillians celebrate the New Year. However, in many Asian countries, the Lunar New Year celebration dates differ, and start around late January or mid-February, based on the cycle of the lunar calendar. It is not just one day, but is celebrated for 15 continuous days. In 2024, the Lunar New Year starts on February 10 and ends on February 23. This is the most auspicious holiday in Eastern countries. It is equivalent to our Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays all in one. The Lunar New Year is a time when many travel and gather together with friends and family to partake in special dishes and decorate to prepare for a lucky New Year. 

Because the Lunar New Year is based on the Lunar Calendar, each year is prescribed a different astrological animal. You can find what your lunar astrological symbol is based on your birth year. I was born in 1972, so I was born in the Year of the Rat, the first zodiac animal in the cycle. To learn more about the Great Jade Emperor’s Race and how the order of the astrological zodiac animals was determined, go to YouTube and search TED Talk – The myth behind the Chinese Zodiac.  This is the Year of the Wood Dragon. 

I love this time of year. I love hearing the loud gongs of the Asian drums and cymbals, hearing the firecrackers which were used to ward away evil spirits, and especially eating the superstitiously required dishes like dumplings, whole fish or chicken, and long noodles.

Lunar New Year traditions and memories also vary depending on the country and region. AICH staff is happy to share some of their personal memories, traditions, and dishes they enjoy during this special time of the year.

Amber Ma 马赫, Director of Programs, grew up in Shenyang, Liaoning Province in Northeast China.

 “Lunar New Year holds a significant place in our household, and preparations begin months in advance. Throughout the week of Lunar New Year, we ensure an ample supply of fruits, snacks, and essentials to host both local and out-of-town family members who come to visit. The elders take care to prepare sufficient red envelopes for the younger generation. Finally, we gather as a united family to make dumplings from scratch. To honor the occasion, we incorporate additional ingredients into the dumplings, each symbolizing different blessings. A coin is added to signify wealth, candy for a sweet life, and peanuts for health and longevity. Shaped like an ingot, these dumplings are believed to bring prosperity and good fortune when consumed. As we engage in this tradition, we watch the Lunar New Year CCTV program, and eagerly count down to the new year. The festive atmosphere culminates with our family joining in the celebration, lighting fireworks to welcome the approaching year.” 

Joanne Zhou / 周炯, Director of Education, grew up in the East Coast of China (Nanjing and Jiangsu Province).  

“The Lunar New Year celebration has always been a great family reunion over lots of tasty food. When I was a kid, our family members (local and out of town) would gather together over a large round table full of special dishes. Afterwards, we would have fireworks outside. On Lunar New Year’s Day, we would all dress up and pay visits to relatives in town. In my region, Lunar New Year is all about the Lunar New Year’s Eve Dinner. My favorite dishes include spring rolls, egg dumplings and Shanghai-style smoked fish, just to name a few. On the fifth day of the Lunar New Year, it’s the day to welcome the God of Fortune so fireworks usually start so early in the morning and last for a few hours.”

Aijie Wang (王爱洁), STARTALK Program Director and Bookkeeper, grew up in Zhucheng in Weifang, Shandong Province. 

“The 23rd day of the lunar month is the Little New Year in the north. On this day, every family welcomes their ancestors back for the New Year. People burn paper money and set off firecrackers. On the 24th day of the lunar month, every family conducts the annual major cleaning. All furniture is moved to the courtyard, then thoroughly wiped, and cleaned, leaving no dust. People in Shandong love to eat noodles and steamed buns, so every household makes steamed buns. Fish-shaped steamed buns symbolize surplus year after year.  We can buy New Year goods, such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, candied haws, and even new clothes. We eat dumplings with spinach and tofu filling because our ancestors are at home, and we avoid meat filling for that meal. On the first day of the lunar new year, men cook, and women just enjoy themselves and eat, because women have worked hard throughout the year; letting them rest on the first day signifies being good to them in the future.”

Every year, AICH hosts one of Metro Louisville’s biggest Lunar New Year Celebrations. This year’s Lunar New Year of the Dragon Auction & Dinner will take place at Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center, in the Van Gogh Room, Saturday, February 17th from 5 –10pm. Guests support the mission work of AICH, and many wear beautiful Asian-inspired fashion from their home countries. 

A team of five local chefs, many James Beard Award participants, prepare canapes and a six-course meal under the coordination of Chef Dan Thomas and Chef James Moran. The evening also includes a sake and soju tasting, tea tasting and a signature dragon-themed cocktail. Performances by local Asian groups, which include Louisville’s  River Lotus Lion Dance —a Dragon Dance choreographed by Oreya Ou and Louisville’s Cardinal Bhangra dancers. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit

Asia Institute – Crane House is celebrating its 37th year in Louisville. AICH’s mission is to be a community resource which promotes Asian cultures and heritage through arts, education, and outreach. In 2022, AICH was selected as a Southern Cultural Treasure by South Arts. AICH was awarded the 2022 Director’s Community Leadership Award by Director Christopher Wray, Federal Bureau of Investigations. Joel Buno, was selected as an Honoree of Louisville Business First’s Inaugural Non-Profit Visionary Leaders Award. For more information on AICH please visit


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