Dumplings for all: Author Grace Lin shares her Lunar New Year traditions

  • “We would make piles and piles of dumplings,” says Lin, who based this illustration on her memories of making them with her own mother and sisters. “The more dumplings you ate, the more ingots you would get during the year.” Illustration by Grace Lin

  • Each year, Lin hangs red banners inscribed with poems and good luck wishes around her family’s front door to ward off bad luck. In this illustration from her book “Bringing in the New Year,” she hangs banners with her father and two sisters at her childhood home in New York.As Illustration by Grace Lin

  • “For a long time I was not interested in my cultural heritage,” says Lin. “Making books has been a way of gaining power over that part of my identity.” This illustration, from her book “Bringing in the New Year,” includes aspects of the holiday. The broom is for sweeping out the old year, and the banners, red envelopes, fish and dumplings represent wealth and happiness. Illustration by Grace Lin

  • Illustrations by Grace Lin from her book Bringing in the New Year. Grace Lin

  • Grace Lin and her daughter, Hazel — shown standing outside their Florence home — wore silk qipao-style jackets for their Lunar New Year celebration last year. Lin says they make dumplings the weekend before the holiday, which falls on Feb. 5 this year. Contributed Photo

  • When she was growing up, Lin and her sisters would help their father hang red banners inscribed with poems and good luck wishes around her family’s front door to ward off bad luck. Lin and her husband, Alexandre Ferron, now continue that tradition with Hazel. Illustration by Grace Lin

  • Grace Lin’s 6-year-old daughter, Hazel, makes dumplings before last year’s Chinese New Year celebration. Contributed Photo

  • Grace Lin stands with her 6-year-old daughter, Hazel, outside their Florence home wearing traditional Chinese qipao-style silk jackets before last year's Lunar New Year celebration. Contributed Photo—

@AndyCCastillo
Published: 1/28/2019 1:44:54 PM

Grace Lin remembers making dumplings for the Lunar New Year as a child with her two sisters and mother around the round flour-covered kitchen table of their upstate New York home.

“We would make piles and piles of dumplings,” said Lin, 44, who lives in Florence. “I remember grabbing a fork, because I had trouble with chopsticks, and piling them on my plate, and my sister saying ‘Hey, leave some for us!’ ” 

Reluctantly, she would put one or two dumplings back.

“It’s such a poignant memory for me,” Lin continued, noting that in many Asian cultures, dumplings symbolize ancient gold coins called ingots. “The more dumplings you ate, the more ingots you would get during the year.”

The Lunar New Year celebration, also known as Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, recognizes the first day of the traditional Chinese calendar. The calendar begins on the new moon that appears annually between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. This year, the Lunar New Year will be celebrated on Feb. 5.

Lin, who grew up in rural “white bread” New York, says her family’s dumpling-making tradition was a connection to Taiwanese culture. Both of her parents immigrated to America from Taiwan, but she was born in the United States. For much of her life, Lin says she had a hard time fitting in.

“Honestly, it’s been something I’ve been wrestling with my whole life — identity: never feeling Asian enough and never feeling American enough,” Lin said. “For a long time I was not interested in my cultural heritage. In fact, I tried hard not to know anything at all.”

As a child, Lin says she viewed her Taiwanese heritage as something to be embarrassed about. She and her friends would sometimes make fun of her mother’s accent. At one point, Lin says her teachers asked her parents not to speak Taiwanese Mandarin around their children because the teachers thought it might inhibit Lin’s English speaking skills.

“My identity has always been fragile,” she said. She says she took up writing and illustrating books — like “Bringing In the New Year,” “Fortune Cookie Fortunes” and “Dim Sum For Everyone” — as a way to explore her heritage. “Making books has been a way of gaining power over that part of my identity,” she said.

Now a parent herself, Lin says she goes out of her way to celebrate the Lunar New Year with her 6-year-old daughter, Hazel.

Of her family’s tradition, Lin says, "I’ve been trying really hard to pass it on to my daughter, which is hard, because I’m trying to claim my culture while at the same time passing it on."

Each year, along with her husband, Alexandre Ferron, she hangs red banners inscribed with poems and good luck wishes around their front door and windows to ward away bad luck, “because the monsters are afraid of the color red," Lin explained. It’s a tradition she began with her family in New York.

In the days leading up to the holiday, she visits Hazel’s school and talks to her class about the Lunar New Year. 

“Then we make dumplings the weekend before,” Lin said. 

For now, Lin says Hazel uses a plastic mold to crimp the edges of the dumplings.

“I’m trying to teach her to do it by hand, as well,” Lin said. “I thought it was embarrassing, [but] she thinks it’s fun ... [and] that’s exactly how I want it to be.”

For dumpling recipe visit: https://www.gazettenet.com/Chinese-New-Year-dumplings-22138452

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

How to connect

Grace Lin’s illustrations can be seen at the R.Michelson Gallery in Northampton and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. A full list of her books can be found at gracelin.com




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