Just two days before Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year was celebrated on Feb. 12, and those who celebrate it have been busily preparing to welcome a more prosperous and, hopefully, a healthy new year, the year of the ox. While many people are expecting chocolates, teddy bears and love letters from their crushes this Valentine’s Day, it is safe to say that I, along with other East and Southeastern Asians, are ready to collect our annual lucky red envelopes. Also known as “li xi” in Vietnamese and “hong bao” in Mandarin, red envelopes usually contain money as a wish for the recipient to receive good fortune for the upcoming year. Whether it is an opportunity to gather with family, go shopping or just to simply receive money (I am a mix of all of these), Lunar New Year never fails to bring communities together to celebrate a year full of hope and luck.
Prior to the chaos of the pandemic, many would spend at least a week preparing for this two week-long holiday. From personal experience, I can say that Lunar New Year shopping is the Asian version of Black Friday shopping, except nothing is on sale and the majority of shopping carts contain New Year goods. Grandparents rush to buy fruits and red envelopes, parents pack their carts with chrysanthemums, alcohol and traditional Asian groceries, while teenagers purchase loads of candy like no other.
If you think Christmas is the busiest time of the year, think again. At the crack of dawn, shuffling in the kitchen can already be heard to prepare for the family gathering happening at noon. The aromatic smell of roasted duck and noodles fill the house as groups of relatives steadily enter and greet one another. Of course, the young ones would run and line up in front of their elders to wish them a prosperous year and a long, healthy life in return for a red envelope containing $1, $5 or even $20. If only it was that easy to make money on a daily basis!
It isn’t Lunar New Year without watching a few lion dances and blowing your ears out from the sound of firecrackers. To keep the crowd on their toes, dangerous stunts are performed as the beat of the drums and the clash of cymbals accompany the lions’ movements. These sounds are soon buried by the popping firecrackers that circle around the dancing lions. To put your luck to the test, raffles occur to win some of life’s basic necessities: rice cookers, bags of rice, gift cards to a grocery store or even an iPad to be fancy. What seems to be an entire day spent day-partying finally winds down to a small gathering at an uncle’s house.
Although the spread of COVID-19 continues to make it difficult for families to gather to celebrate any holiday this year, technology has eased the difficulty of this barrier. Despite having my relatives trapped in a phone screen this year, our tradition must live on, no matter the circumstances that could hinder it.
Have a Happy Lunar MOO Year!