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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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dining Featured Posts lifestyle

Local Valentine’s Treats for Your Sweetheart

Maya Capasso

As the season to celebrate love with gifts and sweet treats approaches, now is the perfect time to discover or revisit local candy and chocolate companies to pick up something tasty for your loved ones. Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic partner or your beloved kids or want to show yourself some love with a delectable treat, here are a couple of candy shops in Central Mass to check out this February. 

Stewart’s Chocolates: Jefferson, MA

You can’t get more local and authentic than Stewart’s Chocolates. Opened in 2014 by Stewart Goodhile, Stewart’s Chocolates emerged from an old New England farmhouse built in 1803 where Goodhile’s great-great-grandparents made their home. Stewart’s Chocolates began as a passion project for Goodhile, who spent years studying cacao and chocolate recipes before perfecting his chocolates and opening his dream business. Goodhile’s dedication to perfection and love of chocolate spreads to his loyal customers, who choose Stewart’s Chocolates time and time again for their gorgeous decorations and unmatched taste. 

Stewart’s Chocolates prides itself on its wide range of chocolate flavors. With over 45, everyone can find a treat they love at Stewart’s. They’ve got classics like the Milk Salted Caramel and their delicious White Chocolate Ganache, but they also offer unique flavors like Vanilla Lavender, Banana Cream, and Chai. You can even build your own box to create the perfect gift that provides your loved ones with all their favorites. 

Hebert Candies & Gifts: Shrewsbury, MA

Hebert Candies & Gifts began as a one-man operation in 1917 when Frederick Hebert began handcrafting chocolates and candies in his kitchen for a growing New England market. By 1946, Hebert bought the mansion that remains the home to Hebert Candies & Gifts to this day. Hebert made history not only by opening the first roadside candy shop in New England but also by gracing us with the delectable treat of white chocolate after visiting Europe to advance his chocolatier skills in 1956. 

To this day, talented confectioners at the Shrewsbury mansion handcraft all of Hebert’s candies and chocolates. The recipes for some of their classic chocolates, like Genevas and white chocolates, stand the test of time. Why change something that people have enjoyed for nearly a century? From chocolate bars to assorted flavor-filled goodies to their seasonal ice cream selection, there’s a tasty treat for everyone at Hebert’s. 

Bri’s Sweet Treats: Worcester, MA

This family-run business emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic to brighten their customers’ days and bring communities together with sweets. Founded by Leicester resident Briana Azier to spread kindness during a time of sorrow and upheaval, Bri’s Sweet Treats recently earned the title of the Worcester Business Journal’s Best New Business in 2023. Another reason Bri’s Sweet Treats earns its spot as one of the best candy shops in town is because they care deeply about their community. They’re always giving back, like donating funds to organizations such as United Way and Abby’s House. 

While Azier has many delectable offerings up for grabs, her most famous is the giant peanut butter cup. Weighing almost a quarter of a pound, Azier fills each peanut butter cup with her delicious peanut butter recipe that took over a year to perfect. If you’re not a peanut fan, there are plenty of options to make your mouth water. Select anything from classics like chocolate-covered Oreos and chocolate-dipped strawberries to unique choices like the breakables and smores cups. You can find Bri’s Sweet Treats at their stall in the Worcester Public Market, but you can also place orders on their website. 

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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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also in issue Featured Posts lifestyle style&beauty

Wavvz Newage Fashion Boutique Opens on Main Street

Maya Capasso

With the help of a supportive community of creatives, designer Qlynton Carboo celebrated the grand opening of Wavvz Newage, his boutique fashion store on Main Street, in mid-November. The bustling storefront echoes with laughter and conversation as tailors create and customers chat about Qlynton’s exciting, fresh designs.

Qlynton’s love of fashion began at an early age as he watched his mother create outfits to sell in tourist-heavy areas of Ghana, where he spent his early childhood years. “When I was a baby, she used to carry me around with my big brother, going to museums to sell outfits and toys she made,” Qlynton shares. “When I got to the United States and came to New York, I realized the path of college and a regular 9-5 job wasn’t satisfying enough.” Qlynton found himself leaning towards art and creativity. When he picked up a sewing machine at his friend’s house, he realized he found something special. “I picked it up and was like, ‘You know what? Let me take my shirt off.’ My friend had a rug, so I used it to see what I could do. Lo and behold, I put something amazing together.”

Within a few weeks, Qlynton bought his own sewing machine and put all his focus and passion into creating new clothes. “I bought a couple of T-shirts and made a long sleeve with those two fabrics. That’s when I realized that, wow, it works!” he says. “The next projects were hoodies and jackets, and that’s when I realized this is my passion.”

Qlynton’s dedication to his craft and unquestionable talent brought him from experimenting with his sewing machine from Walmart to opening his community-driven business’s storefront in just six years. The concept for Wavvz Newage began in 2017 when Qlynton began showing his designs. Gradually, he expanded into teaching aspiring designers how to sew and develop their style. “I was able to create something for myself using my gifts and talents. And through that, I know I can teach other people,” Qlynton shares. “I see a lot of kids who have the skills, and I just want to pass it on. I want to let them know that they don’t have to give up on whatever they wanted to do as a kid. There are people and organizations who can help and are looking for creative people.”

Wavvz Newage isn’t just a boutique with unique hats, jackets, hoodies, and other fashion items. It’s also a way for Qlynton to make a difference in the Worcester community. As he attempted to make headway in the Worcester fashion scene, Qlynton realized he’d have to pave the way for other designers in his stead. “I’m using the disadvantages I had while establishing the business to transform the Worcester fashion scene. I realize I’m in the unique position to be able to do it, so it’s like, why not? And it’s working.”

Qlynton, one of Pulse’s people to watch in 2023, clearly lives up to the title. Not only has Wavvz Newage quickly become a lively hub for fashion lovers, but it’s bringing Worcester into a new era of fashion that Qlynton loves to spread to the community. “Yeah, I can sew. Yeah, I can make an outfit. But that is just one part of it,” Qlynton says. “I get to meet a lot of cool people and to pass down this knowledge. I get to watch as my work solves problems in the community. That is what drives me. That is why I do this. I wake up every day and ask myself, ‘Whose life can I change today with a jacket? Whose life can I change today with a stitch?'”

You can visit Qlynton at his vibrant store to check out handmade clothing bursting with color and character in the Wavvz Newage fashion boutique at 660 Main Street in Worcester. 

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Featured Columns lifestyle style&beauty

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!

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Featured Posts lifestyle

Oversaturation & $20 Eighths  

Ravon Williams

Happy New Year! As we start the year, it’s only natural to reflect on the past as we look into the future. Let’s get into it.

Reflecting

We saw some major shifts in the cannabis industry last year. A handful of establishments shut down throughout the state. On top of that, we saw mass layoffs resulting in over 200 more workers without a job. 

We also saw pricing hit new lows last year, and not just for flower. Pretty much every category of consumable cannabis took a huge hit on pricing. A lot of people in the industry say that the current pricing is a “race to the bottom” and as annoying of a statement as it is, it reigns correct. 

Looking Forward

How can we stop layoffs and closings? Some are hoping that the cannabis commission steps in and changes some laws to help struggling businesses. Specifically changing the cap of three establishments to six (or more) so that larger operators can buy the little guys out, saving struggling businesses from bankruptcy while making the big guys, well, bigger. Whether it happens or not, at some point the commission or someone is going to have to step in and make some changes. 

For consumers, most probably want to see the prices stay low. But those low prices are part of what’s driving some operators out of business. They can’t stay afloat in a market where they’re barely making money. 

Now that $20 eighths have become a norm in some markets, I see it as almost impossible to bounce back. Leading me to think we’re going to see a lot more of what we saw last year, prices racing to the bottom and operators closing down because they can’t keep up with the market. 

The weirdest part is that this low pricing isn’t everywhere. Some establishments in the state still don’t carry eighths for less than $35, it’s really all geographical. But in a city like Worcester that’s practically overflowing with dispensaries, price wars thrive.

Reasons For Low Prices

I remember getting into the industry a few years ago where eighths (regular eighths, not small buds or pre-ground flower) were never lower than $48 pre-tax, and the usual price of an eighth ranged from $50-$65. Those were wild days, but not wilder than $20 eighths.

There’s a lot of variables to consider when we look at the shift in the market, a prominent one being oversaturation. Massachusetts has more than 300 dispensaries and over 100 cultivation and production facilities. There is an abundance of products on the market and it creates a war for business to business commerce. Companies find themselves having to constantly compete and undercut each other on pricing to make their business “prosper”. This is how prices are able to get so low. 

Another consideration is the general inflation. With the cost of a dozen eggs being sky high these days, customers have to shop more intentionally on non-necessities like weed. Customers shopping on a tight budget typically prefer to grab two $20 eighths over a singular $40 eighth. Even customers not on a tight budget prefer it. It’s simple math, why buy one when you could get two for the price of one? 

What Does This Mean For Consumers?

There isn’t much the average person can do to prevent the collapse of a business. But for those who like affordable products, do some research on the dispensaries in your area to find the best pricing. Even if you’re not into flower, prices are low for just about everything and dispensaries all over are competing to get your business. I suggest you find a solid 2-3 shops with good prices and products that cater to you and take advantage of the pricing war!