By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The coronavirus pandemic has robbed our summer and our holidays, including Lunar New Year (LNY). I am not going to let it happen in the Year of the Ox, which begins on Feb. 12. That’s easy to say, and harder to make happen. But we can celebrate many LNY customs if you follow my tips.
Most people think that Lunar New Year is pretty much about food. It’s true there are lots of exotic cuisines in Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Taiwanese, Thai, and other Asian cultures during the festival.
But the meaning of LNY is more than food. It symbolizes that we meet the new year with a different mindset, and I only realize the wisdom behind this year. Perhaps it has to do with 2020—a horrific pandemic year.
What exactly does LNY traditions and preparations for the festival mean? It means we open ourselves up for future blessings so that we would have a happy and prosperous year. Everything we prepare, before and during the first two weeks, will set the stage for the rest of the year. We clean our homes and use fresh linens and pillow cases on New Year’s Eve to ensure that the new year will bring us a new journey. All of us need to have a different kind of experience in 2021—a fresh start after the unbearable lockdown last year! LNY simply means we leave behind what is evil, we are ready for a new journey, and the force of LNY will land us the magic of fortune. A little mystical perhaps, but LNY has enlightened many believers over thousands of years.
To leave behind misfortunes, we have to do it symbolically by wearing new clothes and shoes, and wear red (pink if you don’t have red) to welcome the new year on the first day of LNY, Feb. 12. Yes, men too. If you’re not comfortable wearing a red shirt, then a red tie, scarf or other accessory will do. I haven’t bought new clothes or shoes in the last year. But I definitely would put on my best makeup and wear nice outfits for the occasion, even though I am not going to a party. It creates the mood that we are ready for a brighter year.
Another crucial goal of LNY is to bring our family in the unity of spirit and the joy of being in each other’s company. One LNY tradition is for the whole family to make dumplings together, serving the purpose of sharing food and bonding. My friend and family will do just that, and then play mahjong afterwards.
In the pandemic, the social distancing guidelines forces us to cancel all types of gatherings. However, there are ways you can connect with your family and friends. Send out text messages and photos of New Year greetings or you can arrange to dine together over Zoom. Even though this is not in the LNY rule book, please remember to thank those who mean the world to you. It’s an appropriate time to show your gratitude, too.
Change LNY greetings during COVID
The traditional LNY greetings in Chinese and many Asian communities are “Gung Hay Fat Choi,” meaning “Wishing you making tons of money.” This is not the appropriate greeting during the pandemic. What if someone’s loved ones had just died of COVID? If you don’t have life, what’s the use of having wealth! What we need now is health and safety. You only wish people lots of money when they are jobless or losing a home.
The best greetings would be wishing your friends and family to have “the spirit of a dragon, and the energy of a horse,” “A healthy body,” “May your heart’s desire come true,” “A million things go smooth,” or “Peace and happiness.” Those are popular and relevant greetings during COVID.
Give red envelopes
Giving red envelopes to others during LNY means you want them to have luck. I take this tradition to heart. I give red envelopes every year to my children, grand nephews, employees, and the working class in the Chinatown-International District, and people who serve me at the grocery stores and restaurants.
I know some business owners would object to the lucky money tradition this year.
“Hey, my business lost money last year. Why should I give?” Of course, your employees know you are not making money. But the fact you still hand out red envelopes would make them appreciate working for you so much more.
You don’t have to put in a lot of cash in the envelope. Just $1 (a new dollar bill preferably) or more in the envelope will make everyone smile. It’s not about the money. It’s about compassion and your wish for your workers to have fortune.
Cleaning and removing garbage
Cleaning your home is important in allowing fortune to meander your way. I have been washing table cloths and some other things, and started throwing away junk two weeks ago to prepare for LNY. By the time you read this blog, the Year of the Ox will already be here. It’s better late than never.
A very important ritual: Take out your garbage the day before New Year.
Don’t do it on the first day of the year, Feb. 12. If you do, you may throw away your wealth. Do it on Feb. 13 or afterwards.
Decorate your home
Fresh flowers are a must during LNY. Where I was raised in Hong Kong, we visited the Flower Market five or four days before LNY to get fresh flowers and plants, symbolizing vitality and luck. It was one of the most wonderful experiences to celebrate the coming of the new year. Because of COVID, the Hong Kong government wanted to cancel the Flower Market. But people protested. And the event is being held.
Make sure you decorate your home with fresh plants, flowers, and fruits in your living room on the first day of the year, to foster new energy and beginning in your home.
Don’t display faux flowers in your home or office, especially during LNY month. Fake flowers create dead energy. It’s bad feng shui. If you have them, hide them for a while.
Several Asian supermarkets have beautiful lucky posters in red and gold, of all sizes for a reasonable price. Five years ago, those signs didn’t exist. Buy a couple of those and hang them on your door or windows. I have several of these signs pasted on the Asian Weekly’s storefront. We like them so much, we leave them there intentionally year-round.
To celebrate the Year of the Ox, you can buy Asian costumes and some stuffed cow toys to give to kids, including your grandkids, and educate them about LNY.
I am blessed that my daughter-in-law and my staff would bring us special foods to celebrate LNY. Fresh fruits such as tangerines and mandarins are my favorites for my family, employees, and friends as they symbolize energy, gold, and luck.
Chinatown-International District restaurants all have their new year menu.
Ask for them when you order takeout. Choose the kind you want for your wishes: Noodles for longevity, whole fish (with the head and tail) for wealth and abundance, oysters for good things, prawns for laughter, lotus seeds for fertility, lotus roots for romance, and many others. Welcome the Year of the Ox with a sumptuous meal. Let it be a catalyst for an exciting and fun journey for you. A new cycle of life to bless everyone!
May you have health and bliss in the Year of the Ox!
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.