Michelle Li, an Asian American news anchor who turned criticism into a movement last month after a viewer called her “very Asian” for eating dumplings on New Year’s Day, broke down Lunar New Year traditions in a video for NBC News’ “Stay Tuned.”
Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, starts Feb. 1 and is celebrated in Asian countries including China; Korea, where it’s called Seollal; Vietnam, where it’s called Tet; and elsewhere. The holiday also marks a fresh start. As Li, who is Korean American, explained in the video, people celebrate the holiday in a range of ways.
“In China, families clean their house before the new year to rid of bad luck,” Li, an anchor at NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis, said. “In Korea, folks honor their elders by doing a special bow, which is rewarded with cash in pretty envelopes. In Vietnam, there’s often a dragon dance celebration to ward off evil spirits.”
This year is the Year of the Tiger, which Li explained is a symbol for bravery, agility and competitiveness.
Food also makes up a big part of Lunar New Year celebrations, she said.
“Symbolic foods like long noodles for longevity, dumplings for family or sticky rice cake for prosperity,” Li said. “So if you’re celebrating, I just want to say Happy Lunar New Year and eat your heart out.”
For the past two years, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted celebrations in the U.S. and around the world, with major cities like Hong Kong, New York City and Melbourne, Australia, canceling parades, festivals and fireworks. Instead, people have taken to social media to share new ways of celebrating the holiday at home.
Last month, Li started the viral hashtag #VeryAsian after a viewer complained about Li noting that she ate dumplings on New Year's Day. “She’s being very Asian. She can keep her Korean to herself,” the viewer said.
Other Asian Americans used the hashtag to bring attention to traditional Asian foods as well as their experiences with racism. Following the criticism, Li also created a video of her listening to the voicemail, prompting heartfelt messages from viewers across the globe, who shared their own New Year’s Day traditions.
“It just felt really like this racist, ugly phone call ended up being a real gift,” Li told NBC News last month.