Joan Low, manager of Mandarin Cuisine restaurant on Highland Ave./ Credit: Needham Observer

Food plays a central role in the celebration of most major holidays, and the upcoming Lunar New Year is no exception. On Feb. 10, Chinese families will begin 15 days of celebrations to mark the Year of the Dragon. 

“Food celebration is a big part of Chinese New Year, and the family getting together. It’s all about family,” said Joan Low, manager of Mandarin Cuisine restaurant on Highland Avenue. She said traditional gatherings center around a family meal at home on the new year’s eve with immediate family members, and then continue in the coming days with extended family. 

Serving a whole fish is a Lunar New Year tradition/ Credit: Mandarin Cuisine

That makes the holiday a busy time for Needham’s Chinese restaurants, which are preparing meals for families celebrating at home as well as serving their restaurant patrons. In addition to the regular menu items, they will be cooking a wide variety of traditional dishes for families that symbolize the prosperity of the new year. 

“New year’s eve is the most important and special night,” said Miao Wang, manager of Dragon Chef on Chestnut Street. “The tradition at home is a special meal for the family. It might include lobster, crab, pigs’ feet, a whole chicken and duck.”

Low said lobster is a must, along with a whole fish. “The whole fish is a tradition. Most Chinese prefer a good starting and a good ending to the year, so we have to have fish.” She said that symbolizes the year being good from beginning to end. 

“In Chinese culture the whole fish has good meaning, it’s a lucky token for the new year,” said Dennis Zhang, president of the Chinese Friends of Needham. “Fish every year means you will be rich and have everything you need.” 

Chinese dancers representing different regions and historical periods at Needham Lunar New Year Celebration/ Credit: Yuanwen Liu

The Chinese Friends of Needham hosts an annual Lunar New Year celebration for the community to showcase the many aspects of Chinese culture, including food and musical and dance performances. Zhang said this year it was held in January to accommodate the schedules of all the performers. “We celebrated ahead of Lunar New Year to give everybody time to celebrate with their own family.”

In a break with a longstanding local tradition, Ray’s New Garden restaurant will not be marking the Chinese New Year with a lion dance and buffet. “We have done it every year since we opened almost 50 years ago,” said owner Raymond Ho. He said the change is because the timing this year coincides with another big celebration —the Super Bowl. “We may plan it for another date.”

At Mandarin Cuisine, Low said they will be balancing catering and serving restaurant customers with having their family celebration. “We will find our own way before the new year eve to get together. Or maybe a little after,” she said. “We’ll have time to get together.”

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