Lunar New Year is something that I commonly associate with great food, family, friends, and awesome activities. However, this year's Lunar New Year is going to be a little different. In fact, there are going to be quite a few things that are going to be different this year.
The feature image of this post is of me and my dad last year in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, shortly after this photo was taken, I abruptly returned to the United States and the pandemic began to hit with full force. It has become very difficult to stay in contact with loved ones especially when all of us are physically apart, but this post isn't about all the depressing things, it's about how my family and I can celebrate this new year in a unique and safe environment. I hope the post can help other families and people around the world. With all that being said, I'd like to introduce some background deets on Lunar New Year, and how this year's Lunar New Year will be different (but still awesome).
What is Lunar New Year and who celebrates Lunar New Year?
Also associated with Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays for a number of Asian countries ranging from China to South Korea and Vietnam. Unlike the new year celebrated on the first of January each year, the Lunar New Year date varies from year to year. This is because the Lunar New Year follows the cycle of the sun, and how long it takes for the earth to loop around it. So sometimes the holiday occurs in the middle of February while in other years, it can land at the end of January. This year in 2021, Lunar New Year is on February 12, and it will celebrate the year of the ox.
How are Chinese zodiac animals chosen each year?
Every year there is a different animal that an individual year represents in terms of Chinese zodiac animals. You might be wondering how the Chinese zodiac animal is chosen each year. Well, I learned from my family that the Chinese New Year animals are decided by the times each animal represents. The Jade Emperor (he's a Chinese diety) basically chose the animals to be a part of the calendar way back in the day, and times were designated based on when each animal arrived. Think of it like Animal Farm meets Alice in Wonderland. In total, there are 12 animals: a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
Lunar New Year activities
First off, congrats to all the oxen out there - it's your year! Anyway, back to the topic.
Typically, Lunar New Year activities include sharing glorious amounts of food with family and friends, exchanging red envelopes, doing some arts and crafts stuff like constructing lanterns out of paper, and checking out parades filled with cool dragons (or rather, people in dragon costumes). So essentially, some bling, fun, dope food, and more fun.
I've listed out some virtual alternatives for the activities I mentioned that I hope will be helpful for anyone or any families who are interested in celebrating.
Enjoying traditional Chinese New Year food with loved ones
This past year I have had an addiction to cooking (as I'm sure many other people have developed during quarantine). So I'll probably end up cooking things with my family. However, for others who are less inclined to cook and do not prefer to dine out, especially if that is not an option, I would recommend ordering in some delicious Asian food from your local Asian restaurants. I'm sure they would appreciate the support, and there's no such thing as a wrong time to enjoy Asian food.
Personally, I'll be celebrating Chinese New Year so some of the most common dishes to have include fish such as crucian carp (鲫鱼), Chinese dumplings (饺子), spring rolls (春卷), and sweet rice balls (汤圆). I absolutely love dumplings, and will likely be making some pork and chive ones. The Woks of Life has a good pork and chive dumplings recipe to easily follow along making your own set of dumplings.
Should you wait on exchanging red envelopes or give a virtual red envelope?
During Chinese New Year, a lot of families do exchanges of red envelopes for fun. The red envelope is a monetary gift with the red symbolizing good luck. When the envelopes are exchanged (and before/after), we say, "gung hei faat coi (恭喜發財)!" It is the Cantonese way of saying happy new year which we use since my dad is from Hong Kong; in Mandarin, this would be gongxi facai (恭喜发财). You're basically saying, "this year, we're gonna make that prosperity rain!"
Part of my family is not able to travel due to COVID-19 travel restrictions so we plan to hold on to the red envelopes and wait until things ease up to see each other and do the exchange in person. A nice option for those who would still like to exchange red envelopes virtually instead of physically is to use either WeChat or Alipay. Top China Travel has a useful article on how to send red envelopes via WeChat and Alipay.
Virtual arts and crafts
Normally, it would be so much fun to get down and dirty with some paper, scissors, and good company. However, doing that this year seems like it would be a less-than-ideal situation. Thankfully, when I looked up some ways to make some Chinese New Year arts and crafts items on Google, I found a couple of options with one of them being an event from Asia Society.
Asia Society is an international non-profit organization that focuses on merging relationships between Asia and the West. They have a number of virtual events ranging from guided puppet-making to musical performances. Coming from a musical background, I would personally love to check out the musical performances as those sound really cool to me, and I miss the feeling of experiencing a musical performance in any shape or form, but I could tell that the puppet-making would be really fun especially if one were with kids.
Chinese New Year Parades in 2021
I did a quick search on good 'ol googz for Chinese New Year Parades that would occur this year, but given the current situation, there wasn't much to see besides some virtual museum-held events. The largest virtual event seems to have already been sold out as of the time I was writing this post. It is the Lunar New Year Virtual Celebration held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. The event will showcase online performances, offer kids activities, and celebrate general Chinese New Year shenanigans.
I'm really hoping that by next year the parades will be back. They are really incredible to see, and they are always so vibrant. A lot of cities like New York and London also fill up the streets with beautiful decorations that are just pure magic for the eyes.
Will Chinese New Year go ahead?
While a number of standard Chinese New Year Parades from Hong Kong to New York have been canceled, there are still so many ways to celebrate the new year virtually. The ox seems like a strong animal to me, and since it's the zodiac animal that represents this year, I think it reflects the strength of people to still persevere and have a good time. Kind of like some of my travel plans, I'm just creating a nice list of things I'll look forward to doing for the next new year, and to cherish the memories I've collected thus far.