Illustrations by Cierra Pedro
With the Year of the Rooster nearly upon us, Las Vegas casinos are working in sync, rolling out their best red to accommodate the influx of celebrants.
Chinese New Year, which begins January 28, is so much more than one night of revelry and a day of resolutions. The holiday is about getting rid of evil spirits from the past and wishing for goodness, luck, prosperity and happiness for others. Stores in Chinatown Plaza are saturated with ornately designed red lanterns, red envelopes, ornaments and other paper goods for the Lunar New Year. Rooster sculptures in a variety of mediums are featured prominently.
Additionally, observers are preparing to banish evil spirits by cleaning their houses to sweep out the bad luck and make room for the good. It’s a collective positivity that envelops those who participate, complete with rituals and tropes designed for good luck.
Some might argue that if we ever needed solid luck in America, it is now. To join in on this holiday that literally wishes everyone (including ourselves) the best, we’ll need a lot of red, a color believed to bring luck and ward off evil spirits. We need to eat dumplings, give and receive oranges, revere the lucky number 8 and do everything else that comes with the 15-day celebration. Chinese New Year is all about the positive. In Las Vegas, there are several ways to observe, beginning (but not ending) with a trip to the Bellagio Conservatory.
Tangerines and oranges
Tangerines symbolize luck and oranges symbolize wealth, partly due to the prevalent wordplay of Chinese New Year: The word “tangerine” in Mandarin sounds like “luck,” and “orange” sounds like the word “wealth.” While Phoenix is covered in orange trees, they’re not native to the Mojave Desert—the frost is too harmful. But local master gardeners have attested to and (in their own yards) championed the possibility of successfully growing dwarf citrus in planters. Nurseries sell them, and container gardening is key to their survival. They require loving care and may need to come in from the porch when temperatures drop.
According to legend, a demon was once preying on children and touching their heads as they slept. Eight fairies were sent by a deity, each of them disguised as a gold coin that shone so brightly it blocked the demon’s view and scared it away. This led to the tradition of red envelopes, which at first were filled with gold coins strung together with ribbon. In Las Vegas, where pawnshops are abundant, finding a gold coin to hold isn’t a challenge. While animated gaming machines are spilling with virtual red coins during play, the Neon Boneyard might have the largest in its collection of Fitzgerald coins from the former hotel-casino’s sign. Right behind it, the iconic Coin Castle king that stood atop the shuttered casino’s marquee on Fremont Street is still holding the metal-and-neon gold coins that were spilling out of its hands.
It’s said that thousands of years ago, a beast emerged from the wild, attacking villagers and going after livestock in what would become an annual effort driven by a limited food source at winter’s end. When villagers learned that the mythological monster was terrified of the color red and loud noise, they placed fireworks and red lanterns in doorways and hung couplets on red paper. As legend has it, the village lived in peace, always and eternally.
No need to go gangbusters, but should you want to immerse yourself in red, the Great Wall Bookstore inside Chinatown Plaza at 4255 Spring Mountain Road is replete with lanterns and decorations. In fact, the entire mall has abundant offerings for the New Year. On the Strip, standing under the ornate red lamps at Wynn might offer pause for reflection, but keep in mind: The house always wins.
Ancient China invented fireworks to ward off evil spirits, and the country remains the largest manufacturer of them. While New Year’s Day on the Gregorian calendar comes with an exploding sky above Las Vegas, Chinese New Year doesn’t. Luckily, Las Vegans live in close proximity to Moapa Valley, where fireworks are attainable. The Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza is 30 miles away, a quick drive near the Valley of Fire State Park, named for its red sandstone formations. Those searching for happiness and serenity might just find it there.
The rooster represents punctuality and fidelity in the Chinese zodiac. This year it is dedicated to the fire rooster, known for trustworthiness and responsibility. Faux golden roosters glisten from counters at stores in Chinatown, where trinkets and charms are abundant. The Writer’s Block bookshop, which doubles as an artificial bird sanctuary, sells wind-up metal roosters and rooster decor. Throw a stone in any vintage store and it’s likely it will hit, if not fly over, something with a rooster on it. But no need to commodify—Bonnie Springs Ranch is home to live roosters that roam freely near the motel and restaurant. And for better or worse, those living Downtown, where backyard roosters are a thing, can hear the punctual crows every morning.
The number 8
Another example of wordplay, the number 8 symbolizes prosperity and wealth, and is good luck regardless of the holiday. In a town based on numbers, finding 8 can be easier than a roll of the dice, and incidentally, the red neon dice on the Binion’s sign atop the parking lot equal 8. For those who truly and desperately need something to slip into their pocket or give to another, the Gambler’s General Store on Main Street sells lammers, plastic chip tokens with numbers used in poker—and the lammer with the number 8 is red.
Red envelopes containing crisp cash are given to the young or from the married to the unmarried as tokens of good luck symbolizing blessings and love. If you have blessings and love to give (and don’t want to use the new red-envelope app to send and collect them virtually), shelves and boxes at the Great Wall Bookstore are practically toppling over with envelopes covered in mottoes of happiness and prosperity, emblazoned in gold. Custom has it that the significance of the red-paper envelope is more valuable than the cash inside.
While a Chinese lantern festival marks the beginning of spring, it’s the lion dance, designed to evict bad spirits with drumming and colorful costuming, that signals the beginning of Chinese New Year. With so many tourists in town for the holiday, the Strip hosts several of these dances. The Linq Promenade offers festivities January 27 (6–9 p.m.), January 28 and 29 (1:30–9 p.m.) and January 30 (6–9 p.m.); Fashion Show mall will celebrate January 27 (6 p.m.); The Forum Shops on January 30 (10 a.m.); The Venetian and The Palazzo on January 28 (3 p.m.); Container Park in Downtown will host festivities January 28 (11 a.m.–6 p.m.); and Palace Station will put on their show January 30 (7:15 p.m.). For a little of everything relating to the Year of the Rooster, Chinatown Plaza will celebrate February 12 (10 a.m.–5 p.m.) with food and festivities.