99¢ for the first month
99¢ for the first month.

Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Happy Lunar New Year

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Red Lantern

…….and Spring Festival in China and Vietnam. The darkest days are behind as we go toward spring. This is the year of the rat, the first of the zodiac animals in the repeating cycle of 12 years. The rat reigns from January 25th 2020 to February 11th 2021. Past rat years: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008. Unlucky numbers for rats are 5 and 9 but lucky flowers are lilies. Colors are gold, blue and green. George Washington, William Shakespeare and T.S. Elliot were rats. If you are a rat, you are optimistic, energetic, love to hoard things, clever, have great ability to focus on fine detail but possibly suffer from frail health. It is recommended that rats always eat a good breakfast and partake of moderate exercise!

The official Chinese New Year holiday lasts 7 days, but the traditional period runs 23 whole days. Fireworks are set off on the night of the new moon (New Year’s Eve Jan 24th) and again New Year’s morning. Houses are cleaned before the holiday begins because it is taboo to sweep or toss out garbage during the holiday. Other taboos include cussing, negative words, breaking of pottery or glass or use of sharp objects during this time. You don’t want to jinx yourself by severing your link to prosperity and fortune. If you take a shower or bath on New Year’s Day, the water could wash away your good luck. Real or virtual red envelopes (which may include money) are given to friends, workers, bosses and children as a way of passing on good fortune.

It all ends with the Lantern Festival held the night of the first full moon in February (Feb 8th in China), the 15th day of the first lunar month. A time for families to be together, celebrate the return of spring, and hang, float or fly red lanterns at home, in parks and through the countryside. Eat Tangyuan, a fermented rice soup with round filled rice dumplings formed from glutinous rice mixed with water. The round images imitate the full moon. Traditional Lion dances are performed to drive away bad spirits while offering protection.

Glutinous rice is a staple in many eastern Asian countries. Remember Japanese Mochi, the glutinous rice pounded into a paste and slightly sweetened? The soft balls are available year-round, but traditionally served during the Japanese New Year on January 1st.

The Vietnamese today also celebrate the Lunar New Year (Tet) with family, red envelopes, no sweeping away good luck, and Lion (Lan) dancing. In Vietnam the Lan is a cross between the lion and a dragon and very powerful eradicator of evil spirits. Savory filled sticky rice cakes shaped as blocks of the earth or round as the moon are eaten. Tet lasts from 7 to 9 days.

The Lunar New Year in Korea also features rice. Tteok (duck) is the chewy and dense Korean rice cake made from steamed, pounded glutinous rice. Tteokguk (duck-gook) is a soup with sliced rice cakes served during the three day celebration. The rice coins will make you richer, live longer and today in Korea you officially turn one year older! As in other neighboring countries, this is a traditional family holiday.

We celebrated the Korean New Year earlier this week by eating Korean tteokbokki rice cake stir-fry with pork and shiitake mushrooms. Good thing I saved the Sun Basket pamphlet with the recipe and name! Delicious.

I like the idea of friends and family gathering together and having fun over an extended period of time. In the US we celebrate New Year’s for one day. Some of us actually eat black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata) for good luck. Why?

Pick your story, since many stem from the distant past. During Sherman’s march through Georgia in 1864, food stores were pillaged except for silos, field peas and salt pork, (the last two considered food fit only for animals). That story doesn’t pan out, since Sherman pretty well took everything and cleaned house. It is possible the troops traveled through fields of unharvested peas late autumn, leaving them untouched.

According to passages in the Talmud, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brought good luck. Some say it was a mistranslation of rubia (fenugreek seeds) with lubia (black-eyed peas). Whatever, for centuries the Jewish have eaten the legumes for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year in late summer or early fall. Jewish colonists did arrive in Georgia in the 1730’s.

Black-eyed peas could have arrived in slave ships coming to America well before the Jewish. The peas may have been eaten on January 1st, 1863, the first day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. Many southern crops were destroyed after the Civil War. Hardy and nutritious, the black-eyed pea was easy to grow and kept Southerners alive especially during Reconstruction (1863-1877).

When growing one of the many varieties of black-eyed peas (heirloom, seed packet, plastic sack from grocery store) remember this subspecies of the cowpea likes sandy or well-drained soil that should be over 60 degrees for faster germination. Field peas originated in warm semi-arid regions of India, traveled to Africa and eventually went global. The peas will camp out in colder soils and wait, or rot, if too wet. Chose vines that range from 24”-36” in height, or bushes that reach up and out 3 feet.

The black-eyed pea swells when cooked—prosperity. Ham hock or pork—positive energy (pigs are so good at foraging). Greens—money. Cornbread—gold. Can’t get any luckier than this!

If you did not eat black-eyed peas on January 1st, why not cook some today to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Our full moon (the Snow Moon or Hunger Moon) rises Feb. 8th and peaks the 9th. This is America. Blend cultures. Go visit friends or relatives and be sure to bring a pot of black-eyed peas cooked with ham. Heat up greens and make a batch of cornbread. Gather together outside and light red lanterns. This could be your lucky year.

And by the way, I have received good support from those who read “Goodbye Old Friends.” Seems there are many out there just as concerned as I about how nature is being destroyed. They asked why the larger trees growing along the road for over half of century could not have been saved. More than one mused that the new road will never last as long as those trees. The trees gave. The road stole. The land suffers.

Save our trees. Save our planet.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at