5 Ways to Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year From Home
By Michelle Cao & Emily Gregor
With the impact of COVID-19, events have continued to move from large, in-person celebrations to virtual gatherings, including the 16-day Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is celebrated in many parts of Asia including China, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The celebration commemorates the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, and usually consists of following variations of age-old rituals and gathering with extended families to welcome the New Year.
My parents immigrated from Fuzhou, China over 20 years ago, but Lunar New Year remains as one of our family’s largest celebrations. Each year, we integrate generation-old rituals and traditions with Western influence. Every year, my family decorates the house with large posters of zodiac animals coupled with lanterns and orchids in the living room.
On the first morning, I kneel beside my mother as she lights the joss paper on fire and places them in the pot, one after another, chanting well wishes to the spirits, departed relatives, and ancestors. Often, curious strangers stop by to watch and ask about it. I used to run back in the house, but now I’m beginning to appreciate my culture’s unique traditions and am happy to share them with others.
We prepare seven dishes of vegetables and desserts and line ten cups of wine and chopsticks to welcome our dead ancestors back for a New Year’s meal. This is an integral way to honor their lives and pay respect to our family’s elders. Roughly an hour later, we enjoy the food, reflect on the past year, and read our horoscopes.
After eating, there’s usually a bit of downtime before gathering with our extended family at a local diner. We usually play Mahjong, but last year, my mother taught me how to play a different variation of Bo Bing. When I was younger, we dressed up in fancy qipao, but now we opt to wear anything red before feasting with my father’s side of the family. It’s symbolic of good luck and fortune. – Michelle Cao
If you’re interested in celebrating Lunar New Year from home, here are five ways you can get involved.
1. Honor departed loved ones
Paying tribute to departed ancestors and celebrating their lives is an integral part of the New Year celebration. You can pay respect by following traditional rituals like burning joss paper to incense, chanting, and praying at temples to ensure prosperity and good luck in the afterlife.
You can also celebrate their presence by reminiscing on memories, continuing family traditions, and inviting them back for the grand New Year’s dinner. Remembrance of departed ancestors will usually be rewarded with blessings and luck over the upcoming year.
2. Gather (virtually) with family and friends
Even though it might not be safe to gather in-person, tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and WhatsApp make it easy to host video calls with your entire family or friend group. You can share a meal, reflect on the past year and plan for the new one, and play games like Mahjong. (Learn how to play here).
3. Decorate your home with red and gold
Preparing your home for the Lunar New Year is essential. Before you decorate, make sure to clean your space thoroughly to get rid of any bad luck that has accumulated over the past year.
To attract good luck, money, and health, incorporate bright red, shiny metallic, and white colors into your decor. You can also opt to decorate with traditional rice paper lanterns, special dinnerware and vases, or even a small tangerine or kumquat tree.
4. Learn how to make traditional food
Popular foods eaten during the New Year are usually established because of their pronunciation or appearance. For instance, vegetables like lettuce and bok choy are synonymous with luck because both are pronounced as cai with different tones. Dumplings or jiao zi, for instance, resemble prosperity because they are made in the shape of Chinese coins.
Glutinous rice cakes or nian gao is another specialty dessert which translates to “higher years” and is symbolic of eternal prosperity. While the key ingredients mainly consist of different kinds of flours and cane water, you can adjust it to make it yours by adding additional toppings like dates, raisins, peanuts, etc. Rice cakes also make great gifts when visiting relatives around the holidays.
5. Enjoy traditional music and dance (in parades)
While Gong Xi Ni, Cai Shen Dao, Xin Nian Dao are typical greetings for the New Year, they are also well-known radio songs that set the scene for the celebrations. Framed around good luck, prosperity, good health, and a fresh new start, they’re often played as background music integrated into decors and in large parades.
Parades and community celebrations are other outlets to immerse and appreciate Chinese arts. The lion and dragon dance symbolizes strength, power, and courage to scare off evil. Traditional dances like the fan and handkerchief dance are often performed by women and represent femininity and delicacy.
Lunar New Year is symbolic of new beginnings and good luck. Although family gatherings and large-scale celebrations will not be taking place this year, let’s continue to uphold century-old traditions and safely celebrate the beauty of Asian culture.
Happy Lunar New Year to those who celebrate. We wish you a year filled with love, health, and prosperity as we welcome 2021, the year of the Ox!
12 Animals in the Chinese Zodiac
Explore the Chinese Zodiac in this interactive presentation using information from “Which Chinese New Year zodiac are you? Discover your animal based on the year you were born.”
For our pair piece, we wanted to work together to create a piece that would provide insight into how to celebrate Lunar New Year at home. We chose to incorporate a combination of narrative writing and general facts to make it personal while keeping it insightful. We decided to start off broad because we wanted to refrain from generalizing different cultures’ ways of celebrating while still acknowledging them. As the piece progressed, we found it was difficult to find a balance between sharing personal details while keeping it informative.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Michelle is the proud daughter of Chinese immigrants. She is passionate about the intersection between biology, social impact, feminism and culture. Michelle is eager to explore her identities and interests through creative works and collaborations at Girls Write Now. She hopes to study environmental science and Spanish in college with dreams of becoming a community scientist and cultivating a vision for progressive change. You can either find her taste-testing new cuisines with her friends, binging on a good show or tidying her little Etsy shop.
Emily Gregor is a copy editor, content marketer and brand strategist based in Brooklyn. She enjoys writing and reading poetry, learning how to use her 35mm film camera, and exploring her neighborhood.