Madison Street to Madison Avenue: A Chinese New Year Celebration

Justin recently replaced his umbrella and when it arrived from Amazon, he opened it up in our apartment to make sure it was what he was expecting.
“Don’t you know that’s bad luck?,” I asked.
“Is it?,” he replied, completely unfazed.

We Asians are a superstitious bunch.  The number four is bad luck!  You can’t buy someone a clock, it’s bad luck!  Don’t clip your nails at night, it’s bad luck!  I’m Malaysian, and I’m biracial.  My father is of Chinese descent, while my mother is native Malay.  So we grew up celebrating the Chinese New Year, and my late grandmother made sure we were all well-versed on the many traditions meant to ward off bad luck and bring good fortune as we ushered in a new year.

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
My late grandmother
Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
And again, with me and my cousins (I’m the one with the purse, natch)

There’s a robust Chinese population in New York City, and there are a number of enjoyable Chinese New Year celebrations that take place.  The main events happen in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, and Queens’s Flushing, where there are usually firecrackers and a large parade.  While I generally enjoy an opportunity to celebrate just about anything, I’m also fairly crowd-averse.  So this year we decided to attend the more subdued Madison Street to Madison Avenue Chinese New Year celebration, a joint effort coordinated by East Midtown Partnership in conjunction with Chinatown Partnership, The Grand Central Partnership, Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, and Confucius Institute for Business at SUNY.

I’m not going to lie: the event feels a little bit like “Chinese New Year for Beginners”.  There were a few cultural performances scheduled, while a handful of tents set up on East 54th Street offered activities like calligraphy and face painting.  But it’s okay, I was really there for one thing: the lion dance.  

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

A lion dance troupe performs the traditional custom of “plucking the greens”, whereby the lion plucks the auspicious green vegetables either hung on a pole or placed on a table.  The greens are tied together with a red envelope containing money.  The lion will dance and approach like a curious cat, then eat the green and spit it out but keep the red envelope which is its reward.  The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business.

I have fond memories of watching lion dance performances during Chinese New Year when I was a kid back in Malaysia, which would range from basic to grandiose.  As the size of the purse increased, so did the skill of the performers.  Even at its simplest, the members of the troupe were talented dancers, acrobats and martial artists, and it was a sight to behold.

The lion dance troupe on Sunday was modest, but it was a joy watching all the Madison Avenue retailers embrace the tradition and join in the fun.  Many of them offered refreshments and special discounts to the crowds drawn there by the event, and placed Chinese New Year decorations in the store.  

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

If you follow us on Instagram, you might have seen this post (which we later shared to Facebook and Google+ as well):

As you can see, diversity isn’t just an idea for me, it’s a way of life.  My parents married outside their race even though it wasn’t widely accepted, and I’m proud to say my siblings and I have muddied the water further.  We’ll proudly continue to support our diverse community here in New York City.  If you feel the same way, there are still many events in the upcoming weeks to partake in.  Happy Chinese New Year to all, may the Year of the Rooster bring everyone good luck and good fortune!

– L.

Pair it with:

Xi’an Famous Foods

In a slight departure from our usual posts, Justin is writing the pairing portion of this one. 

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Madison St Madison Ave Chinese New Year - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

It was a forgone conclusion that the food pairing for this post would be Chinese cuisine. Not that Lynn and I minded that one bit.

Lynn is half Chinese, on her father’s side of the family.  And, well, I’m not any part Chinese.  I do, however, have a deep appreciation for the food, culture and traditions, having been generously and intimately introduced to them over the course of our many years together.  Simply put, we both consider this cuisine to be one of our ultimate comfort foods.  

While we weren’t keeping with all the normal traditions for Chinese New Year, we still wanted to eat something celebratory.  Noodles, which signify longevity, at Xi’an’s Famous Foods seemed like a natural fit.

It’s unfortunate, but not so long ago, I would have said the story of Xi’an Famous Foods was an American story.  Recent events challenge that notion.  It’s a simple story, really, one I’ve heard used, rather cynically, in sound bites and anecdotes throughout my life.  A family of immigrants comes to America from a foreign land.  They are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges: language, culture, education, and commerce.  And yet, courageously, they adapt.  With an entrepreneurial mindset, they eventually launch a business.  They work hard.  Their children gain education.  With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, their business thrives.  Eventually, they prosper and continue to do so into future generations.  This, in a nutshell, is the story of Xi’an Famous Foods. Change the name of the business and it’s the story of large swaths of this country.  Lest you forget.

As we sat eating at one of the 11 ( that’s right, 11…so far) Xi’an Famous Food locations, I couldn’t help thinking how perfect this was, how appropriate this felt, now, with everything going on, and in relation to Chinese New Year, a time of family reunion and wishes to friends and family alike for health and happiness and prosperity in the years to come.

Multiple locations

– J.


8 thoughts on “Madison Street to Madison Avenue: A Chinese New Year Celebration”

  1. Lauren, thanks so much for coming and for posting about the event and we are glad that you enjoyed the lions! This is the second year of the event, we hope that it will continue to grow and develop in the coming years!

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for letting us know! We love that Chinese New Year is being celebrated throughout the city with active participation from local merchants. We look forward to more robust programming in the future! – Lynn and Justin

  2. Hahaha “Chinese New Year for beginners”! Yes. I am very white, but my maternal grandparents actually both grew up in China and met in China so my family has stronger tries to the culture than most WASPs! I also grew up on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown and there were firecrackers the whole span of Chinese New Year. They made me cry as a little kid but now I miss them! San Francisco’s parade is such a spectacle, they go all out! It’s at night and televised, definitely the best parade of the year. Annnnnd now I’m homesick hehe in the best way 🙂

    Thank you for this post! I love the pictures from your youth, so cute!

    – Mary Lane

    1. Wait, what? Would love to hear that story about your maternal grandparents! We’ve visited SF’s Chinatown (other than the one here in NYC, it’s the holy grail for us Asian folks since we’re all food-obsessed and they have the BEST stuff), but I can only imagine how crazy the parade there gets. I love that it’s televised, I’d be able to watch it without getting crushed. Win!

  3. I like the way you write. I have seen a Chinese new year parade in Brisbane, a big community there. I live in Ecuador now and it is barely any Asian culture here. I miss it so much, not many Asian places to eat either. Thank you for posting this 😀

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