Cultural Spotlight – Families prepare for Lunar New Year celebrations

Although widely used throughout the world, the Gregorian calendar is not the only one around and not the only one with New Year’s celebrations in January.

The Lunisolar calendar, which tracks both solar years and lunar months, is responsible for the festivities falling on different days each year. In China, the largest country celebrating the Lunar New Year, the Lunisolar and Gregorian calendars are used concurrently.

Asian and non-Asian communities are gearing up for Lunar New Year celebrations of their own this year, the year of the Ox, come Feb.12.

Tết: Vietnamese New Year and the first day of spring

Lunar New Year Parade or not, the Ox will bring the energy necessary to face hardships. | Photo by Hubert Figuière

Chi Bui, originally from Vietnam, speaks about the holidays with fondness.

“People say ‘Happy New Year!’ [at midnight on New Year’s Eve],” says Bui, “and family and friends come and celebrate together in the house.”

Bui says that on the first day of the year, her mother turns on the gas stove and all the lights in the house.

“We open the stove and we put it on and we boil water … it’s for good luck.”

She says that the flames from the gas stove are kept on for a few hours to symbolize the warmth, happiness and brightness which is hoped for in the new year. There is a lot of preparation before the festivities and the house is thoroughly cleaned.

“That’s what my mom and dad are doing right now, making [the house] very neat – and buying new clothes,” says Bui.

Different types of foods, like rice cakes, are prepared in advance and the house is decorated with colourful flowers. Yellow and red are considered particularly festive.

Everyone is involved in the preparation, including children, who often help with cooking and cleaning. However, the children enjoy themselves in spite of these responsibilities.

“[Children] get lucky money from older people, they have fun, and eat all they want; there is no school,” Bui says.

When asked about special traditions that take place, Bui recalls that the first person to visit a family’s home on the first day of the year is often carefully chosen. This is because the first guest inadvertently decides the family’s fortune for the whole year.

Other traditions include being careful not to break things, as it bodes poorly for the new year, and not throwing garbage out, which can symbolize throwing luck away.

At midnight on the first day, in accordance with Buddhist tradition, Bui’s family makes rice and other foods and brings
them outside.

“We place all the food on a small table or chair and pray to the sky,” she says. It is the time when the guardians of each house return to heaven and the offerings are meant to assist them on their journey.

Gung Hay Fat Choy: prosperity and happiness for the Chinese

“I’m not sure what it would be like in China, because it’s a bigger deal there … but we only [celebrate with] immediate family,” says Jessica, who prefers not to reveal her real name.

In their East Vancouver home, siblings and parents are preparing for the holiday, though Jessica’s mom is the main organizer.

She does the grocery shopping and cooks all the meals for the family during the New Year celebration. Aromas of cooking rice, a variety of delicacies and mandarin oranges permeate their home.

Jessica says that on the night before Chinese New Year, her mom puts little mandarin oranges around the house.

“She also gets red money envelopes for us,” says Jessica, “and she likes the new bills that haven’t been used yet, so she goes to the bank [to get them].”

Although every family celebrates differently, some traditions live on. Jessica’s family, for instance, always shares the first and last meal of the year together.

Nian Gao, the traditional Chinese New Year cake is prepared for her parents’ friends. Jessica amusingly describes it as a “really sticky pie that you bake.”

“Mom [used to] say, don’t cut your hair on New Year’s, because cutting it off is like shortening your life, and wear something red for good luck,” says Jessica. “But as the years go on people are less traditional about it, and not as strict as before.”

With the help of the Ox, 2021 promises to promote stability, balance, and prosperity. The Ox being a reliable, dependable, and resilient animal, this year is synonymous with hard work, determination, strength, resilience, and never demanding praise. A nod indeed to all healthcare professionals, here, and across the world.

Xīnnián kuàilè!

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