Lunar New Year with Emily Ho

When I’m asked to describe Lunar New Year, it is the smell of freshly peeled mandarin orange, the loud familial chatter, mom’s special dishes that fills the kitchen and red pockets! The Year of Rabbit arrived on Jan. 22 and It is the busiest time of year for most East Asian family.

Lunar New Year (LNY) is celebrated for 15 days and it is always a fun time for us. It is a time to reconnect with family members both nearby and afar, to reflect on the joys and happiness over the past year, and to pay respect to our elders and teach the younger generation traditional Chinese customs to help prepare for a year full of good health, prosperity, and happiness. To start, no celebration can happen before a proper clean up. It is a tradition to clean up and tidy the house 3 days before LNY. The entire house is cleaned and wiped including bookcases, sofas, cabinets and windows. Old and unused clothing are donated or recycled as we wear new clothing to welcome the new year. The fun begins after a thorough house clean-up. We put up various red signage with good-luck phrases on the walls and prepare custom Chinese snacks for families and friends. We prepare red pocket envelopes (which will be stuffed with money or good luck phrases).

Lunar New Year Eve dinner marks the beginning of the LNY celebration, it is considered as one of the most important dinners as people make effort to be back in their hometown! A family dinner is held with traditional Chinese ingredients. The ingredients are chosen primarily for their names and that their pronunciations resemble various good luck or fortune phrases. The dinner brings family together, especially for relatives and family members who have not met up recently. This is the third year my daughter, Arielle, has celebrated with us! Though she might still be young to understand, she is having a wonderful time preparing food for dinner, meeting up with her aunties (from Hong Kong) and grandparents from New York.

On day of LNY, family will get together, exchange gifts and bless each other with good luck. Mandarin oranges are the most popular gift exchanged, it symbolizes as “giving gold” and well wishes to the recipient. Also take notes that, gifts are given in even, not odd numbers! When I was young, my favorite part of LNY would be receiving red envelopes from elderly after we greet them with lucky words and phrases. Phrases such as: Happy New Year, Wishes you good health, and etc. Each red enveloped would contain cash and instead of spending the money right away, we would save all the red envelopes till the last day of LNY to open it. My parent would then give me part of the money, the rest will be kept safely with them or in my piggy bank. Now that I am older and independent, it becomes my turn to give red envelopes to my parents. Interestingly, the feeling of giving is as great as receiving!

You might be wondering, what do we do for 15 days of celebrations? Each day of LNY, we celebrate and follows different traditions. Here are some examples: on the first day and second day, we would visit elders, bring gifts and wishes. Sweeping/cleaning on the first day is an absolute no as it symbolizes as “sweeping away luck and fortune”. On the third day, there’s a saying that people will often get into an argument, so as a tradition, many stays home and avoid getting into a fight! Day seven is the birthday of man, so we would celebrate everyone’s birthday on this day. As we reach day fifteen, the Lantern festival, it marks an end to LNY’s celebration. The customs for each day vary between regions and beliefs, and it is very interesting how different families celebrate LNY. However, no matter how different each celebrate the Lunar New Year, we all share the same wishes, happiness, fortune and good health!