Rotary: Tony Chan Presents Talk About Chinese New Year

Rotary Club Speaker Tony Chan

Vice President
Rotary Club of Los Alamos

“It’s THE celebration of the year!” explained Rotarian Tony Chan, a native of Hong Kong, when he presented “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Chinese New Year” to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos during the Feb. 2 Zoom meeting.

Comparing its importance and magnitude to an American Thanksgiving, Chan described the Chinese New Year celebration, usually 16 days long, as a non-religious festival that generally falls in February although it sometimes appears on the calendar in January or March.

This year, Feb. 12 marks the beginning of the Year of the Ox, one of 12 zodiac signs upon which the years are based.  Among the characteristics of those born under the sign of the Ox are strength, stubbornness, reliability, patience and fairness.

In the lore of the Chinese zodiac, the animals appear in the order in which they approached the Jade Emperor, who called the creatures of the animal kingdom to be selected as zodiac signs. The Rat, who rode across the waters on the Ox, raced ahead once on shore to become the first animal. He was followed by the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. On the day of the race to the Emperor’s Gate, Rat forgot to awaken his good friend, Cat. Cat became so enraged that cats now chase rats to seek revenge.

The Chinese New Year also is known as the Lunar New Year. As an agricultural society, the Chinese paid homage to the moon’s cycle of the seasons for sowing and reaping crops, consulting the Chinese Almanac, a thick tome, that offered advice, Chan said, for the “optimal timing of social activities,” such as negotiating business transactions, settling disputes and marrying.

Each year, in the days before the festival, families clean and de-clutter their homes and decorate them with an emphasis on color, especially red. To that effect, Chan wore a traditional red jacket with a standing collar to the meeting.

The Chinese New Year is also marked by parades with elaborate representations of dragons and lions with men, and now women, wearing the colorful costumes that dance in the streets to the delight of the crowds. Fireworks dispel evil spirits.

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, families and friends gather for celebrations in their homes to prepare food together, particularly to wrap dumplings. Traditional holiday foods include chicken, duck, and pig. All are prepared with their heads and tails intact as a nod to the Chinese sense of being whole or complete. Chan confided that New Year foods are generally better in restaurants than those prepared at home because families do not regularly prepare the traditional foods more than once a year.

On Chinese New Year itself, which Chan described as a celebration “for children, parents not so much,” boys and girls receive one new set of clothing, new shoes, and small, ornate red envelopes with money given to them by family and friends. Chan smiled as he commented that “the parents pay, pay, pay.”

There are only very small Chinese New Year celebrations in Los Alamos, but San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Boston, and Honolulu are well-known for their spirited festivities.

Although families would normally gather in large groups over the New Year, with thousands returning home from across the country, packing train and bus stations and airports, COVID-19 concerns have prompted the Chinese government to pay citizens to stay home this year.

In conclusion, Chan attempted to instruct Rotarians in saying “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you” in Chinese. A parting wish he asked them to repeat several times, perhaps in hopes it would help defray the mounting costs of a bountiful Chinese New Year celebration, was “Gong Xi Fa Chai” – “I hope you win the PowerBall”.

Chan, who was born in Hong Kong, is a bearings engineer trained in England, France and Germany. He has an MBA in international business and a Diploma in Chinese Law. He worked for Ingersoll-Rand and was based in Japan, where he lived for 10 years, and in Singapore.

Chan retired to Los Alamos where he has family ties. His father-in-law Ed Thomas, who was an honorary Rotarian, introduced him to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. During his 20 years with Rotary, Chan has hosted delegations from Mexico, India and South Africa. He also has participated in taking care of exchange students, inbound and outbound.

When in Los Alamos, Chan tutors English as a Second Language at UNM-Los Alamos.  

Chan, who enjoys traveling, has visited more than 40 countries. His most recent destination during the pandemic, he smiles, was Española.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of more than 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.

To learn more about the Rotary Club of Los Alamos and its charitable service, contact Laura Gonzales, president, 699.5880 or Skip King, membership chair, 662.8832.

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