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Lunar New Year Traditions and Celebrations

Lunar New Year represents the first new moon of the lunar calendar. It is widely celebrated throughout Asia and has also grown recognition in the past few years in North America and Europe. This year is the year of the Ox! There are many versions of the Lunar New Year depending on the country of origin. In Chinese, we call it Spring Festival (Chun Jie), in Korean it’s called Seollal, and in Vietnamese, it’s Tết Nguyên Đán. Although the traditions slightly differ from one culture to the next, the common theme is that the Lunar New Year is the time for family reunions and wishing your loved ones luck in the new year.


Lunar New Year for many people working abroad is a chance to go home and be with family. In particular, for China’s 300 million migrant workers, it’s the only time of the year for them to go back home to see their children, aged parents, siblings, and spouse. Sadly, this year traditions may change due to the pandemic, as the Chinese government and many other governments globally have urged everyone to reduce/eliminate any unnecessary traveling. That being said, travel restrictions won’t stop many from celebrating the holiday. There are still many traditions to fulfill involving food and practices that are Socially Distance Friendly (SDF).


Traditions:

1. Light up some fireworks (SDF) Traditionally people light up fireworks to scare off bad omen in the previous year and make way for better luck the next year.


2. Ask for Lucky Money (SDF) Lucky money is often given from elderlies and parents to children in a red envelope to wish them luck in the new year.


3. Call families and friends (SDF) The Lunar New Year is often used to catch up with distant and extended relatives and friends. If there were no pandemic, many would choose to physically visit their friends' and relatives' homes with gifts like fruit baskets, rice, milk, meats, or oil.


4. Dress up in red (SDF) Red symbolizes happiness and luck in many Asian cultures. Traditionally people would purchase new red clothing to wear on the lunar new year to ward off evil and bring luck to the coming year.


5. Clear out last year’s clutter (SDF) Often families will dedicate an entire day (typically before the start of the new year) to clean and clear out clutter from their house. This is believed to strip the house of misfortune and bad luck and to make room for better things in the new year.

6. Hang lanterns and decorate the door with red couplets (SDF) Decorating the house with lanterns and red door couplets. Red Lanterns represent happiness, while the couplets often have writings of blessings and wishes for the coming year. It is also believed that hanging red couplets at the door prevents evil from entering the house.


7.Dragon/Lion Dancing Families would often take their children to watch the skilled dragon/lion dancers who would often perform on streets or at malls or squares. Depending on the region, there are different meanings behind the Lion Dance but the Dragon Dance often represents luck and prosperity. The longer the dragon = the more luck. However, with Covid, this activity may need to be halted for the time being.


8. Pay respects to ancestors (SDF) Many Asian cultures believe that paying respect to your ancestors is essential on lunar new year not only to show respect to the deceased but it is also believed that ancestors possess the fortune of the living.


Foods:


1. Fish

Fish is considered an auspicious symbol in Chinese New Year. There’s a saying that goes “年年有余”. “余” (yu) means surplus or plentiful which is a homophone to "鱼" (yu) which means fish. Therefore, you would wish each other to be wealthy enough to eat fish every year (since seafood was often considered expensive in the past).


2. Tteok (Rice Cake)

Rice Cakes are commonly eaten in many asian countries. In Korea it’s called Tteok and is often made into a savoury soup (Tteokguk), in China it’s called Niangao and is often sweet and lightly pan fried or steamed. In Japan it is called Mochi and is often made into a sweet soup with red beans on the lunar new year (Ozoni). Rice cakes often represent unity or hoping the person who eats it becomes more prosperous in the coming year.


3. Mandarins

These oranges are eaten to bring luck and wealth because the Chinese word for tangerine sounds similar to the word luck!


4. Longevity noodles 1. Light up some firework (SDF)

Traditionally people light up fireworks to scare off bad omen in the previous year and make way for better luck the next year. Longevity noodles are often hand pulled long noodles in whatever kind of soup or sauce you would like. There is a tradition of finding the longest noodle in your bowl and giving it to your grandparents in hope of them living a long life. Careful not to break your noodles!


5. Kuri Kinton (Candied Chestnut and Sweet Potatoes )

In Japan, there is a tradition of eating Kuri Kinton (a mash of yellow sweet potatoes and chestnut) on new year. The yellow colour of this treat symbolizes economic fortune and wealth in the new year.


6. Banh Chung (square shaped) or Banh Tet (cylinder shaped)

Often eaten in Vietnam, Banh Chung and Banh Tet are similar to each other in terms of their ingredients and the way it’s cooked. It’s a square or cylinder shaped rice cake filled with glutinous sticky rice, pork and mung bean wrapped in banana leaves. The square shape represents the earth and is eaten to show respect for ancestors and nature. While the cylinder shape represents the moon.


7. Pineapple Tart

Pineapple Tart is most often eaten in Singapore. In Hokkien this delicious treat is pronounced as Ong Lai which conveniently also means prosperity is arriving.


8. Hot Pot

Although there are many more traditional foods, Hot Pot has become widely popular with the younger generation and those abroad in North America or Europe. It is a fun, easily prepared, interactive, and delicious meal meant to unite friends and family.


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