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Lunar New Year

Irena Kaci

I was thirteen years old before I knew what my Chinese Zodiac sign was (The Year of the Rat), and that it was based on the Southeast Asian tradition of the Lunar New Year. I found the existence of a whole other system for measuring time to be fascinating and mysterious. Worcester’s connection to the Southeast Asian community is vast; in fact we have the 3rd largest Vietnamese population in Massachusetts, and rank 3rd by percentage of 3%. Even without the statistics, the sheer abundance of Vietnamese restaurants from Mint Worcester, to Pho Dakao, to Anh Thu II, naming only a handful, demonstrates how integral Vietnamese culture is to Worcester’s cultural milieu.  And every February the community gathers to celebrate one of the two most important traditional holidays for Vietnamese culture. 

Tét decoration display at the Vietnamese Church
Display: Banners with Tét wishes, Vietnamese flowers with red envelopes

For some background information on the Lunar New Year I connected with Tuyet Tran from the Southeast Asian Coalition here in Worcester. Tran was happy to provide some historical background. “The Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Vietnam, and follows the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar measures the year in increments of moon cycles, which are about 28 days each therefore it’s slightly different from the regular western calendar. Naturally it changes the exact Gregorian calendar date from year to year. For this year it’s February 10th, and is the Year of the Dragon It’s really a celebration of the beginning of Spring.” 

The Lunar New Year celebrates themes of renewal, reinvigoration, and revival. In short it celebrates all things springtime. Tran explains:  “According to the cycle of the moon. It’s spring and therefore time for family and gathering and happiness. My favorite part of our tradition in Vietnamese culture is the opportunity to clean the slate and start fresh with everyone. In our tradition, you let go of grudges from the previous year. This time of year, people reach out to one another make amends or smooth things almost no matter what. Any particular disagreement you might have had, like if you haven’t talked to someone because you had a falling out for some reason, you call and you fix things before the New Year. If you don’t, it’s considered a bad omen.”

Mayor Joe Petty feeding the lion dancers red envelopes

In addition to behaviors associated with the New Year, there are also customs related to ringing in the spring and with it the new era. “We always set off firecrackers to chase away evil spirits. This is a big part of what we believe. You also want to start the new year with ‘new money’ so family members give each other these little red envelopes that contain one dollar bills to start the year with good fortune. The kids and the grandkids and everybody lines up and they wish the oldest in the family a year of health and good fortune.” 

Another huge part of the celebration is the variety of food, traditional to the Lunar New Year. “There are many foods associated with the big event.” Tran explains: “There are basically two shapes that we make as part of the food offering, circle to represent the moon, and square to represent the earth. We use glutinous rice and mung beans and the cakes can be made sweet or savory. If we are making them savory there are versions that put meat like pork inside. That’s my favorite.” Although the Southeast Asian Coalition is having their big New Year’s event this year at the end of January, Tran is able to direct me to other local groups making celebrating this month.”

Mint Kitchen + Bar Owner, Trang Le, making dumplings

Mint Worcester is always looking for ways to celebrate and bring awareness to one of the two biggest Vietnamese holidays. Owner Trang Le says: “I always look for ways to educate people and spread awareness about our culture and traditions. Last year we brought dumplings at UMASS and everyone loved them so much. This year we are planning on bringing the dumplings to UMASS again. We are set to be there on February 9th, and anyone eating at the cafeteria at Memorial or University Park will be able to enjoy Mint Worcester dumplings.” It doesn’t stop there, however, because Le values the cultural education piece, she’s also offering a ‘dumpling’ making workshop. “We actually did one dumpling workshop last year and we sold out. This year we are going to offer two sessions, one of which will take place in February. On February 14th, we will invite people to come into Mint and make their own dumplings. The dumplings are shaped like silver and gold ingots and are said to represent fortune and prosperity in the coming year. The more dumplings you eat the more prosperous you will be in the New Year. It’s also a great Valentine’s activity.”

Across town in a rather unexpected pocket, Neelu Mohaghegh prepares her own homage to Southeast Asian traditions. “My own personal background is Persian. My dad moved here from Iran in the 70s and basically built his real estate business from scratch. I grew up doing martial arts and feeling really connected to Southeast Asian culture. Additionally, we have our own Persian New Year that happens in March, so I’m really sympathetic to non-mainstream New Year traditions. So we are hosting our own Lunar New Year Extravaganza here at Fuel in Grove Street.”

The Grove Street Fuel location opened its doors on February 10th of 2022 so celebrating its inception comes hand in hand with the Lunar New Year. “This year our 2nd birthday party will celebrate the Lunar New Year. We love being able to share something that means a lot to a lot of people. We’ve had people travel from as far as Rhode Island to attend last year. This year we will have red envelopes that contain traditional New Year’s wishes.  Some of our new flavors for this year will be matcha, ube and black sugar. The latter is often traditionally used in Boba so it will be familiar. For entertainment, we are going to have “the Lion Dance” by the Eternals. Our event hours are 10am-3p and the Eternals will be doing their dance around 2pm as a kind of finale. We are inviting tons of local Asian owned businesses to partner with us and participate as vendors. Mochi Doh will be joining us as well, and we are in talks with Mint Worcester for them to participate. We are also partnering with the Worcester Center for the Crafts to paint stationary with ‘Year of the Dragon’ symbolism. It’s going to be great!”

But the celebration doesn’t have to end there. RICEMA (Refugees & Immigrants Cultural Empowerment Massachusetts) is a performance arts and education center, focusing on preserving the art and culture of refugees and immigrants through education and performing arts, connecting a rich cultural identity to the community and contributing to the American experience*. In line with their mission, RICEMA is hosting their own Lunar New Year event on February 17th. The festival will take place at the Boys & Girls Club (65 Boys & Girls Club Way) and will feature a Lion Dance, as well as several vendors and performances, including Mint Worcester, Nori, and Euphoria. I spoke with Boa Newgate to get the scoop. 

Brother and sister, Alex and Layla, wearing Ao Dai for Tét

“The Lunar New Year is known as Tét, and it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. Tét celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. During this time families reunite and honor their ancestors while praying for luck, health, and prosperity in the New Year. Our celebration will have many games, activities and performances throughout the day. We will also have Worcester’s first Ao Dai competition. If you have the best Ao Dai outfit/dress at the festival, you will win a cash prize!”

Historically reserved for lovers or the lovelorn, the color red takes on a whole new meaning this February. In Southeast Asian tradition, red is favorable for making your New Year dreams and ambitions come true. Worcester in February invites us all to think outside of the scope of western traditions and focus on what makes the shortest or coldest month around here exude warmth and shine. Recapture the magic of childhood glee and come out in support of our diverse tapestry of Southeast Asian culture by attending a Lion Dance, sampling some matcha flavored beverages, or even reaching out to old friends to make amends. It’s the Lunar Year’s end, and also its beginning. Let it be yours too.

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also in issue Featured Columns lifestyle

Love’s Spectrum: A Guide to February in Central MA

Charles O’Donnell 

February casts a spell of enchantment over Central Massachusetts, blending an air of romance with a variety of events celebrating love and friendship. From traditional Valentine’s Day festivities to unconventional gatherings, the region unfolds a diverse array of activities, catering to various interests and lifestyles.

For those immersed in the spirit of love, Valentine’s Day becomes a cherished moment with significant others. Central Massachusetts warmly invites couples to embrace this special day through a variety of events and experiences. Before the day of love, savor an unforgettable “Valentine’s Dinner at Polar Park” on February 10th, starting at 6 pm, offering delectable cuisine and a romantic ambiance. Secure your tickets online to ensure you don’t miss this exclusive celebration. Additionally, partake in a delightful “Valentine’s Day Cookie Decorating” event on February 10th, 10 am to 11 am, at the Worcester Public Library. On Valentine’s day itself, February 14th, 6 pm to 8 pm, lose yourself in the enchanting “Valentine’s Night with Giuliano” at Birch Tree Bread Co., featuring an evening of music and delightful treats.

However, February is not solely about romantic relationships; it’s a time for cherishing bonds of friendship and family and creating new connections. Kicking off the month, the Worcester Gay Professionals Group gathers for their monthly social and networking event, details of which can be found on their Facebook page. “Galentine’s Day,” celebrated on February 13th, encourages individuals to spend quality time with family and friends. Whether it’s a cozy “Stitch n’Bitch” session on the first Monday of the month at Technocopia or a leisurely stroll around the Canal District for food, wine, and music, countless opportunities await to share laughter and create lasting memories.

Looking beyond Valentine’s Day, Central Massachusetts offers cultural experiences for everyone. For aficionados of drag, the region presents a captivating array of performances throughout the month. Femme Bar hosts “Win, Lose or Drag! Game Night” on the second Thursday of the month at 8 pm, featuring hosts Gem Stoner, Bootz Morales, and DaishaDore Famouz. These events provide a platform for self-expression and creativity, celebrating diversity and inclusivity in Central Massachusetts. Every third Thursday, Ralph’s Diner hosts “Harley’s Fun House,” a vibrant event hosted by Harley Queen starting at 9 pm. Electric Haze transforms into a hub of entertainment every Thursday night with “Malodies with Mal,” an event hosted by Mal E. Fishn’t beginning at 9 pm. For a unique experience, catch the “Throat Punch! Drag Roulette Competition: Season 2” at Blackstone Worcester on the last Thursday of every month at 9 pm, hosted by DaishaDore Famouz and Betweenya Lipz.

Adding to the growth of the community, the first annual Worcester Community LGBTQ+ Welcome/Icebreaker Event is set to take place at Gambrino’s Cask & Barrel on Wednesday, February 28th from 6 PM to 9 PM. Open to ALL (18+) community members, this event focuses on integrating those who have not found a home in the community. Designed to ensure the comfort and privacy of those who are closeted or questioning their sexual and/or gender identity, registration details can be found on the event page on Facebook.

February in Central Massachusetts is not merely about celebrating love on Valentine’s Day; it’s a month filled with diverse events catering to a range of interests. Whether you’re enjoying a romantic dinner, embracing Galentine’s Day with friends and family, or attending LGBTQ+ events, the region provides ample opportunities to forge lasting memories and celebrate relationships both new and old. As the winter landscape blankets the area in serene snow, the events of February bring warmth, laughter, and a profound sense of community to Central Massachusetts.

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Kool Aid George is Crushing It 

LuAnn Thibodeau

George Annan is an artist who captures the world through the lens of a camera. George hails from Worcester and said that photography has not always been something that he did. But that changed when some college friends introduced him to their love of photography, and it was magical. 

George has done a lot of great commission work for nationally known companies like Puma and Converse, but his deep love for urban agriculture and his family roots in the country of Ghana led him to become very involved with Worcester Environmental Council (REC), and 2Gether We Eat, two Worcester organizations that are focused on ways to cease food insecurity while also providing education and employment opportunities in the city. 

From late summer of 2022 through September of 2023, George became involved in the inaugural Black Artist Residency program at the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM), something that he says has been a wonderful experience for which he is very grateful. He said that he owes a great deal of thanks to FAM, whose staff was absolutely amazing in their help and support of him. His photo series part of this program is entitled “From Seed to Plates”, focusing on black farming. This is part of the current exhibit- “Dialogues, Diasporas, and Detours Through Africa”- at FAM, and is on display through January 14, 2024.

 

Among honors that George has received are being named an Outstanding Alumnus at Worcester State University and being featured a couple of years ago in Pulse as one of the People to Watch. 

When I asked George about the differences or similarities between the United States and Ghana, he said that he hadn’t been to Ghana since he was 11 years old, but he remembers it as being such an expressive land. He also feels that way about the US and is thankful for his friends who showed him the beauty of the world of photography. 

So, my next logical question was- what’s the next step, what’s next for George? He said that he moved to the Boston area in February of this year, so he is exploring the region and getting a taste of what it has to offer. He says he’s very curious, and loves the good energy around it. 

And while he thought back, in sort of a flashback way, his photography he “spoke into existence” and “it’s not a finished product yet”. “There are still many dreams and goals, and the sky is the limit”. Well, I must say that if anyone can reach their goals, realize their dreams, and go to the limits of the sky, George Annan is the one who will do it. He’s an amazing, dynamic young man, whose future looks blazingly bright and brilliant. 

To see more of George’s work, check him out on Instagram at koolaidgeorge, and also see his display at the Fitchburg Art Museum. Now if I may borrow a phrase from a famous movie, to George I say, “May the force be with you”, as you continue to rise above the moon and stars. 

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Featured Columns sports&fitness

That’s A Strike

Andrew Johnson 

The crack of a baseball bat. The swish of a basketball hoop. Sports often reward their participants with satisfying sounds as they compete. Just as pleasing to the ear is the thunderous yet hollow clatter of ricocheting pins upon contact with a hefty bowling ball.

This is the sound that emanates from each lane as you walk into a bowling alley – any bowling alley. It’s the sound of birthday parties, it’s the sound of too many drinks on a Tuesday night, and it’s the sound of families, too restless for board games, taking out their frustrations with one another on the ten vaguely humanoid shapes lined up 60 feet away. The more precise the roll, the louder the sound. You are surrounded by these echoes and the low growl of the ball as each one rolls down the smooth hardwood toward its target. 

Unlike many sports, bowling often slowly morphs into a social activity rather than an athletic one. Professional competitors remain loyal to the letter and law of the rulebook (which, I imagine, is kept in Arlington, TX, the location of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, behind plate glass like the Book of Kells) and retain focus throughout each frame, even while watching teammates and opponents, but many participants, myself included, take the opportunity to converse with those with whom I share a booth. Good and serious intentions may create a spirit of competition at the start, but, in my experience, the intensity wanes, especially as food and drinks are consumed.

Bowling presents as a uniquely American sport, though that is far from the truth. It originated in ancient Egypt, and bowling alleys exist all over the world today. Perhaps we have been fooled by the hegemony of our historically insular culture, the likes of which have produced such films like Kingpin and The Big Lebowski. Perhaps it has been ingrained as a Nixonian quirk of patriotism during a particularly tumultuous time in the United States. Perhaps, too, it evokes a romanticism of a past time when cigarette smoke hung in the air, the frayed shoes squeaked uneasily, and the canned nacho cheese flowed like molten iron. All of these may be true, and yet, it is popular everywhere, especially among residents of Worcester. 

Unfortunately, there are no alleys in the city anymore. Residents still bemoan the lack of candlepin options in the surrounding area; an activity that was once a source of pride given that candlepin bowling was invented in Worcester. However, there is reason for optimism. A new development under construction near Polar Park, called “The Cove”, is reported to feature a bowling alley, with candlepin, no less. One day there may once again be a place for local enthusiasts to roll on Shabbos or any other day without traveling to the suburbs. But today is not that day. The Cove is expected to open in the summer of 2024. 

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Eat Beat: January 2024

Paul Giorgio

That Was A Short Song: Stogotz, located on Worcester’s Chandler Street, has closed down after being open just nine months. This was a “Soprano’s” themed restaurant/bar that featured karaoke with a limited food menu.

I Guess They’ll Make More Chili:  It looks like the owners of Chuck’s Steakhouse have reached an agreement with the town of Auburn to purchase their property. The town hopes to build a new firehouse on the land, while Chuck’s is looking to relocate its operation. 

Looking Inward:  Inward Grill in Leominster recently opened their doors at 785 North Main Street. I don’t have any info about the place since they have no web page. I can’t even tell you what they serve.

Igloos Are For More Than Eskimos: Lock 50 in Worcester, along with the Black & White Grille in Spencer are still doing outdoor dining. In both cases it takes place in heated Igloos. Try it out but reservations are suggested.

Best In The East:  B.T.’s Smokehouse in Sturbridge was recently named the best barbeque joint in Massachusetts by the Food Network. B.T.’s has a sister restaurant at the corner of Park Ave and Chandler Streets in Worcester.

The Sun Also Rises: It looks like Mohegan Sun will be once again hosting its “Sun Wine and Food Fest” for four days starting on Thursday January 25th and ending on Sunday the 28th. Tickets prices vary and can be purchased online. The brunch for example is $125 and the Grand tasting is $178.

Speaking Of Food And Wine: The Boston Wine Expo is back on March 2nd and 3rd at the Boston Park Plaza. You can sample wines from over 100 different wineries.

Didn’t Know They Were Closed:  It looks like East Brookfield‘s 308 Lakeside is open again, according to a Facebook post. I didn’t even know they were closed.

Speaking About Opening: The 1885 opened on December 13th on Worcester’s Green Street. This cocktail lounge offers craft drinks and small plates.

The Fix Is In: Leominster’s Fix restaurant has renovated and reopened its downstairs bar. The downstairs has been renamed to The Fix Underground and will have live music.

It’s Moved: Akra Eatery recently closed their operation in the Public Market and have opened a brick and mortar restaurant at 1280 Grafton Street in Worcester by Blithewood Ave. They got great reviews in The Public Market.

Moran Diner Set To Close: Since 1939 the Moran Square Diner in Fitchburg has been serving food to the hungry folks of North Worcester County. Owned by Adam and Brittany Willoughby, who refurbished the Worcester Lunch Car in 2020. Willoughby has accepted a job at Groton’s Gibbet Hill Grill. Hopefully someone will take it over.

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Nu Year Style

William Calaway

Having a wildly successful style column is great, I am the one who chose my path, but sometimes I feel like I’m labeled as a girly fashionista when in reality, I’m more of a nu metal cowboy. Don’t believe me? Just check out my nu metal playlist on Spotify and you’ll see I’m down with the sickness. Anyway, I’m not here to flex my nu-ledge, so grab a brush and put a little make-up because it’s time to talk fashion.

The first thing you’re going to need is a pair of baggy jeans. Time is a valuable thing, and uckily the 90s are back in style, so there are plenty of choices. The usual chains like Target and Walmart do have baggy jeans, although I don’t think they’re baggy enough. In a completely insane turn of events, JNCO jeans are now for the ultra rich with the average cost being $260. There are a few sale options, but even those are $169. My suggestion is to hit your local Savers or Goodwill to find affordable baggy jeans, you might even come across vintage JNCOs.

I’m not sure how committed you are to the nu metal look, but if you don’t want to look like a poser, it’s time to consider some piercings and tattoos. Facial piercings are a great way to show off your nu metal style. Viper bites, lebret and septum piercings will never go out of style, so go wild. As for body art, it’s like the great Fredrick Durst always says, “I’m hairy as hell, outta hell and tattooed up”. Find a tattoo artist you trust and discuss options such as heavy metal font, quotes and images to vibe with the nu metal style that you have now fully embraced. Pay your respect to Chester Bennington with arm flames or shout out your go to drink with the Monster Energy Logo.

Finally, it’s the little things that will enhance your nu style to the next level. It would be advantageous to invest in chains, as they are a staple of your nu identity. I’m talking wallet chains, ball chain necklaces and any kind of paper clip inspired jewelry. A flat brimmed baseball cap is a nice touch, but why not get one that has your favorite band on it. Slipknot’s official merch store has a Barcode Logo from their 2023 tour that is very cool and well worth the $40 (plus shipping). If you’ve already spent money on JNCO’s, and don’t you think maybe we could put it on credit anyway?

I get that style fluctuates, but there’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface, and nu metal fashion represents my true self. It’s more than just black clothes and baggy jeans, there are so many small easter eggs you can include in your nu metal style. It’s always fun to embrace something nu and step out of your comfort zone. Happy Nu Year!