Chicago

Parades, Film Festivals, Food Deals: Here’s How to Celebrate Lunar New Year in Chicago

Lunar New Year is here, and there are so many ways to celebrate in Chicago.

Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Lunar New Year begins on Saturday, February 10, and the festivities in Chicago are already starting. The celebration fetes the arrival of spring and the first day of the new year for various Asian communities. In Chinese communities, you may hear it called the Spring Festival, while Seollal is the term for Korean New Year, and Tết is commonly used to refer to the Lunar New Year in Vietnam. Different cultures and communities have different ways of celebrating the Lunar New Year, and its timing varies from year to year because it’s marked by the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar rather than a fixed date. In Chinese, Korean, and Thai culture, this is the Year of the Dragon.

“I have great memories of Seollal, Korean New Year, growing up,” Beverly Kim, chef and owner of Parachute and Anelya tells Thrillist. “We would meet at my grandma’s apartment. My mom would make a large meal that we enjoyed after midnight service at church in Albany Park. It included dduk gook, a rice cake soup representing good luck and starting the New Year with a blank slate. Later we would bow in front of our elders to receive blessings and money for the New Year.”

Chicago’s Asian population is the fastest-growing ethnic group in Chicago, and there will be a number of Lunar New Year celebrations across the city and suburbs. Experience the vibrant diversity of Lunar New Year celebrations across communities and cultures and enjoy the perks of living in a big city by joining the festivities (the majority of which are free) and embracing the unique traditions that mark the start of a new beginning.

Courtesy of Sunda New Asian Chicago
Courtesy of Sunda New Asian Chicago
Courtesy of Sunda New Asian Chicago

Food and Drink Events Celebrating Lunar New Year in Chicago

Parachute

February 9–11
Avondale, Prices vary
For Lunar New Year weekend, Parachute will be serving dduk mandoo gook, a Korean rice cake dumpling soup, which is a traditional dished served for New Year’s. Chef Kim is serving her family’s recipe on the menu. “But we’re taking it a step further and doing an 18-hour bone broth,” says Kim. “It’s going to be more milky, more luxurious and rich than what I had growing up. It’s for the people like me who don’t have family close to go and share a bowl with or maybe they want to introduce this dish to someone they love. It’s very traditional.”

Sunda New Asian Chicago

Through February 29
River North, Prices vary
Sunda New Asian Chicago is serving special Lunar New Year dishes now through February 29, 2024. There’s the seafood lo mein packed with crispy scallop, shrimp, pea pods, carrots, water chestnuts, and shiitake mushroom or the cumin lamb dumplings served with pickled mustard greens, ginger vinaigrette and chili crisp. An assortment of “Luck and Wealth” cookies and oranges is also on the menu for $8.88 (In Chinese, the number eight has the same sound as the word “发(fa)” which emphasizes prosperity or fortune, and 8.88 is considered a lucky number). For diners visiting the evening of Thursday, February 8, a celebratory Lion Dance is scheduled for 8 pm.

Wow Bao

February 9–10
Various locations, Prices vary
For a more casual meal, head to Wow Bao. In honor of the Year of the Dragon, Chicago locations will be giving away traditional Hong Bao red envelopes with every purchase on February 9 and February 10. Envelopes will include coupons for freebies. And for those lucky to be born in the Year of the Dragon (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, and 2024), the restaurant is offering a free meal up to $15 at any of their three locations on February 10, the start of Lunar New Year.

PERILLA

February 9–11
River North,Prices vary
If you’re looking to celebrate Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, then head to PERILLA. The Korean American restaurant is offering a holiday menu during dinner service on Friday, February 9 through Sunday, February 11. Dishes include bulgogi (marinated beef), ddukguk (rice cake soup), japchae (stir-fry glass noodles with veggies), and bindaedduk (savory mung bean pancakes).

Music Events Celebrating Lunar New Year in Chicago

Old Town School of Folk Music

February 7, 8 pm
Lincoln Square, $10 suggested
In anticipation of the holiday weekend, the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square is hosting a free and intimate performance in celebration of Lunar New Year on Wednesday, February 7 at 8 pm. The concert will feature a blend of traditional and contemporary Chinese and Thai music and instruments as part of their World Music Wednesday series. Multi-instrumentalist Tzu-Tsen Wu, multi-percussionist Brent Roman, their duo, Ruan and Hide and special guest Chamni Sripraram are among the performers bringing the spirit of Lunar New Year to life. Make reservations in advance either online or by calling the box office at 773-728-6000. A $10 donation is suggested.

Chicago Philharmonic New Year Concert & Celebration

February 10, 3 pm
Theater for Music and Dance, Free
The Chicago Philharmonic’s Chinese New Year concert and celebration at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance is one of the city’s most popular Lunar New Year events. Expect a full orchestra with pipa virtuoso Yang Wei to perform Butterfly Lovers Concerto, one of China’s most renowned classical compositions based on the folktale of two star-crossed lovers, and Crouching Tiger Cello Concerto. The event takes place on Saturday, February 10 at 3 pm. The event is free but registration is required.

Lunar New Year Concert Featuring Rabia Brooke

February 11, 2 pm
Preston Bradley Hall, Free
Head to the Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall on Sunday, February 11 for the world premiere of Lei-Liang’s Mongolian Suite for Violin performed by violinist Rabia Brooke. Liang, a Chinese composer, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in music. Liang and Brooke will sit down for a Q&A to discuss the commissioning and composition process prior to the concert. The afternoon concert will also feature a performance by Tuvergen Band, a Mongolian folk-fusion group. The event is free and presented by Choose Chicago and Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Museums Celebrating Lunar New Year in Chicago

Field Museum

February 8
Downtown, Free
If you’re visiting the Field Museum on Thursday, February 8, expect a number of performances from the Chicago Chinese Cultural Center’s Lion Dance team, the award-winning dance troupe Hao Dance, the Chicago Korean Dance Company and gravity-defying tricks from the Chinese Yo-Yo school. The Grainger Science Hub will also be hosting Chinese calligraphy demonstrations during this time and Tuvergen Band, the Mongolian folk-fusion group, will also be performing. The festivities begin at 11:30 am and end at 1:30 pm. This event is free, but basic admission to the Field Museum is required.

Photo Courtesy of Fashion Outlets of Chicago
Photo Courtesy of Fashion Outlets of Chicago
Photo Courtesy of Fashion Outlets of Chicago

Indoor Family Events Celebrating Lunar New Year in Chicago

Navy Pier Global Connections: Lunar New Year

February 10, 1 pm
Navy Pier, Free
Lunar New Year in Chicago falls during one of the city’s most volatile weather-related months and Navy Pier is a sanctuary for a day of activities where families can roam around. Thanks to Navy Pier’s Global Connections series, visitors have free access to nearly five hours of activities on Saturday, February 10 from 1–5 pm. The Aon Grand Ballroom will be transformed into a family-friendly, interactive playground designed to celebrate the Year of the Dragon. The Thai Cultural Arts Center, Philippine American Cultural Foundation and K-Pop dance crew RevX are among the event performers.

Local food vendors from boba shop Amber Agave, Filipino sweet treats shop Masiramon Chicago, dim sum restaurant New Furama, and Veloria Coffee will be on-site alongside Asian-owned small business retailers like Chicago for Keeps, Cobbler Lane Designs, The Chinese Fine Arts Society, and Science Girls.

Parade Events Celebrating Lunar New Year in Chicago

Argyle Lunar New Year Celebration

February 17, 1 pm
Uptown, Free
For more than 40 years the Uptown neighborhood has come together to host its Lunar New Year parade in conjunction with over 20 local businesses and community leaders on Argyle. The parade kicks off at 1 pm on Saturday, February 17 at Argyle & Winthrop, but a day full of activities (for children, seniors and everything in between) begins at 10 am and ends at 4 pm. Here’s a full list of activities. Duck into Uni Uni after for a snack of bubble tea and popcorn chicken.

Chinatown Parade

February 18, 1 pm
Chinatown, Free
For a Chinese-centric experience, head to Chinatown, where the Lunar New Year parade begins at 1 pm at the intersection of 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue on Sunday, February 18. The parade will feature traditional lion and dragon dancers, marching bands and colorful floats. Warm up with some dim sum post-parade at Imperial, a favorite of Chinatown locals.

Film Events Celebrating Lunar New Year in Chicago

Asian Pop-Up Cinema

February 15 and February 17
Various locations, Free
Asian Pop-Up Cinema founded by Sophia Wong Boccio (王曉菲) is a non-competitive film festival designed to highlight Asian culture. The local non-profit bridging east and west cultures through film, is hosting two free screenings in celebration of Lunar New Year. The first is The Monk and the Gun, a Bhutan film on its shift to a democracy, held on Thursday, February 15 at 6:15 pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The second is the Chinese martial arts film 100 Yards, with a pre-show lion dance performed by Master P.C. Leung & Team on Saturday February 17 at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Lunar New Year Events in the Chicago Suburbs

Fashion Outlets of Chicago
February 10, 1 pm
Rosemont, Free
Fashion Outlets of Chicago is hosting a Lunar New Year kickoff event at its Food Court on Saturday, February 10 beginning at 1 pm. The free “Year of the Dragon” celebration will feature a variety of games and activities for guests including lantern making, Chinese calligraphy, and a Chopstick challenge. Special cultural performances presented by the Huaxing Arts Group featuring Chinese dance, Kung Fu, and Chinese yo-yo will take place from 2–2:30 pm with activities resuming after and running until 3:30 pm. For shoppers looking to score some holiday deals, head to the concierge services on Level One, near Saks OFF 5TH, to receive a special Red Envelope featuring a free Saving Pass and special Lunar New Year offers from participating retailers between February 10–25, 2024.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu is a Thrillist contributor and communications specialist based in Chicago.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or…

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions…I think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book, Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book, Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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