Although the Lunar New Year is celebrated by millions of Americans (not to mention millions around the globe), it is seldom depicted on American network television. That is, until this year. ABC’s Fresh off the Boat tackles this important holiday for Asian-American communities across the US, of which there are more than four million Chinese, nearly two million Korean, and two and a half million Southeast Asian Americans.
"I had a distinct moment when we were filming this episode and I was like, 'Wow, this is probably unprecedented,'" Randall Park, who stars as father Louis Huang, told the Los Angeles Times. “Of any show of the over 400 shows on TV, we’re one of the few shows that can do this. And I think that’s important. It’s another positive aspect of having more diversity of TV—you can explore these traditions that have always existed on the fringes of mainstream American culture.” While Park said that growing up, his exposure to the holiday was limited, “Doing this episode was really a great learning experience for me and I hope for our audience as well.”
While some immigrants attest to the difficulties in continuing to celebrate this holiday as they become more integrated into traditional American culture, the Lunar New Year has become more recognized in the US, and this was the first year that New York City public school students officially had the day off, an important milestone for the Asian-American community.
Grace Meng, a congresswomen from Queens who sponsored the legislation to create the NYC school holiday, said: “When I was growing-up in Queens, I often felt that my ethnicity was ignored or forgotten about when it came to school holidays. I always wondered why school was closed for my Jewish friends on their New Year – on Rosh Hashanah – but not for my New Year; and many kids and parents of Asian descent have continued to wonder why to this very day.” She goes on to say that she knew the difficulty of the bill passing but that “one day, with hard work, its time would finally come.”
Fresh off the Boat showrunner Nahnatchka Khan said that once they learned there would be a second season of the show, they started planning this episode, and show writer Sheng Wang hopes it leads to more awareness of this culturally important holiday. “It wasn’t something I had as a kid,” Wang said in the Los Angeles Times of the holiday’s depiction on television. “So for Asian kids to see something that they’re familiar with on TV, if that helps them feel validated, to feel less alone and less other, that’s a great thing to be a part of.”
While specific Lunar New Year traditions and customs of course vary form country to country, many typical Chinese customs and traditions include a thorough cleaning the house prior to the New Year, buying new clothes, hanging decorations with the color red as well as wearing red clothing, sharing large family feasts that include traditional foods like dumplings and sticky rice cake, presenting red envelopes with cash to kids, and firecrackers. Many also celebrate by going to temples and fairs to pray for good health and fortune. There are also sometimes dancing robots and drones.