Red and orange Lunar New Year envelope being given to family.

Lunar New Year: Memories and stories from Asian icons

We rounded up some favorite Lunar New Year memories and stories from icons in the Asian community

Lunar New Year is a celebration across various Asian countries and cultures. It’s a time to celebrate with loved ones and reflect, while preparing for the hopeful future ahead. In the spirit of storytelling and bringing the community together, JoySauce asked some of our favorite Asian icons to share their favorite Lunar New Year memories.

Happy Lunar New Year!  

Bing Chen

CEO and co-founder of Gold House

“Red envelopes are among the best Lunar New Year traditions—who didn't want more allowance (or school fund) money as a kid? But one year, my mother replaced money with a single word she thought I should improve upon (the first was focus; the second was balance). Every year, she'd invoke a new word to hone my personal growth; one year, she repeated the last. I've always valued her red envelope word game since, as they say, ‘the best things in life are free; the second are very expensive.’"

Bryan Pham

Co-founder of Asian Hustle Network

“My fondest memories of Lunar New Year growing up was waking up to a stack of three li si (red envelopes) laid neatly on the coffee table where my siblings and I enjoy breakfast with our parents every morning before heading off to school. I remembered the butterfly feeling as my eyes anxiously searched for my Vietnamese’s name ‘Ti’ written on the back of the envelope.

We were always taught to be grateful for everything we earned and how much of a privilege it was to receive money from our parents given our family’s (always) tight financial situation. This has taught me a powerful lesson in not feeling entitled to anything in life because every single little thing we enjoy is a privilege and rather than being upset that we received something or not. I was taught to be grateful for every little thing and celebrate the little wins.


Ryan Alexander Holmes

Actor, activist, content creator

“As a kid, every Chinese New Year, I’d be excited to receive my red envelopes from friends and family. After I’d receive them, my mom would always take them from me ‘for safekeeping,’ only for me to never see them or the money in them ever again. Or so I thought…Recently I politely and gently asked my mother, ‘MOM, WHERE’S MY MONEY!!’ and she said, ‘I put it in a saving’s account that I used to help pay for your schooling and anything else you wanted.’ That was enough to make this grown man shed a tear."

Alicia Hannah-Kim

Actor on Netflix’s Cobra Kai

“I’ve always loved Seollal New Year’s Day. As a child, I remember anticipating with glee the ritual of bowing to my parents, exchanging words of blessing and receiving that precious envelope filled with…cash! The rate of exchange seemed very much in my favor as we were also treated to a delicious meal of tteokguk (rice cake soup) immediately following sebae. Needless to say, it was a tradition that would get any kid on board.

Life is busier now and like so many global immigrant families, sebae has evolved to being virtual. I now bow alongside my husband on FaceTime to my parents in Australia and while there aren’t any envelopes, there is something infinitely more precious. It moves me deeply to bow to the ground in respect to my parents. It sustains my year to receive my parent’s blessings for health and happiness and to sincerely wish them the same. It delights me to watch my husband share our culture’s traditions and find meaning in them. Sebae is absolutely a kid pocket money win but also truly, at heart: a ritual of love, hope and family. I’m looking forward to celebrating this Lunar New Year and wish you a hearty sae hae bok mahnee badeuseyo 새해 복 많이 받으세요.”


Kat Lieu

Founder of Subtle Asian Baking and author of Modern Asian Baking at Home and Modern Asian Kitchen

“Shortly after moving from the vibrant streets of New York City to the quiet suburbs of Seattle, the distance we felt from our East Coast loved ones was palpable and painful, particularly during our first Lunar New Year in our new home. Growing up, Lunar New Year had always been the highlight of my year. I missed the lively celebrations in Chinatown, the parades, firecrackers, and endless chorus of  "gong hey fat choy!" Honestly, I felt I left a part of me in New York. 

Eager to infuse our new home with the liveliness of Lunar New Year, I invited our neighbors to celebrate with us. My mother made the best auspicious food like nian goa and turnip cakes, but she was 3,000 miles away, so I served our friends red macarons adorned with the 福 character in gold, Asian-flavored cupcakes, and Japanese cheesecake, favorites of mine to bake back then. I had a makeshift tray of togetherness, filled not with lotus seeds or coconut candies, but a mix of White Rabbit candies, Almond Roca, and Seattle Chocolates. 

We filled the air with Cantonese music, its meanings lost on most of us, including my son. We exchanged simple greetings instead of the witty Cantonese ones that took me all evening to remember as a child. Everything felt different for me that Lunar New Year and yet what happened laid the groundwork for new Lunar New Year traditions among my family and friends. It also reminded me no matter how our lives evolved or where we find ourselves, Lunar New Year continues to be a beacon of hope, renewal, and connection. Love, family, and community were what truly mattered. Oh, and our neighbors? Well, they are now our best friends and our new family.”

Published on February 8, 2024

Words by Daniel Anderson

Daniel Anderson is a disabled Chinese American adoptee based in Seattle. His freelance writing specialties include K-pop, entertainment, and food. He believes that any restaurant can be a buffet, and the key to success is to take a nap each day. Follow his adventures on Instagram @danzstan.