How I’m Celebrating Lunar New Year During a Pandemic

published Feb 11, 2021
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Credit: Rhianna Chan

The (seemingly unending) Year of the Rat is finally coming to a close and with it the coincidental anniversary of a COVID-19 world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of my Chinese New Year (this year, on Feb. 12) preparation is continuing the practices that many of us have developed or cultivated during this pandemic — creating community online to spend time with loved ones, cleaning our homes, exploring recipes, greening our personal spaces, and taking inventory of the what has come in order to prepare for what will be. 

Share the feast

Chinese holidays are for eating and goodness, do we love an excuse to feast with friends and family. As a former chef, it’s particularly sad for me not to be able to invite my loved ones to my home and feed them an array of dumplings, noodles, and other good luck foods. Further compounding the issue is that my mom, brother, and niece live in Asia, making a holiday meal with them, even virtually, a challenging prospect thanks to the difference in time zones. A huge New Year’s Eve dinner for them would mean an over-the-top breakfast for me. And I’m a breakfast lover, but even I have my limits. I’ll certainly wake up early that day and watch them devour a delicious meal while I sip on my coffee and have a bowl of congee.

As for the celebration in my own time zone, there are always creative ways to feed and feast with those you love. And although I won’t be able to have friends over to cook for and serve, there’s no reason I can’t still enjoy their company and feast with them. Whether I email my social circle recipe packets in advance of a Facetime dumpling folding party; make, freeze, and deliver dumplings to my local friends to cook together on Skype; or, coordinate a Zoom Chinese feast where we all order take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurants, there’s a lot of ways to still send the Year of the Rat packing and usher in this year’s Ox. 

Send red envelopes digitally

Traditionally gifts of red envelopes (紅包) filled with money are gifted as a means to curry fortune — you give away in order to invest in future good luck. I looked forward to this part of Chinese New Year the most; in fact, it was the main reason I was always happy to visit with my mother’s extensive group of friends — the Mama-fia, as they call themselves —because I would do some brisk business! Now that I’m older and in the role of the giver, it’s not the lucrative holiday it once was, but gifting my niece is always worth it. 

Since I won’t be able to see my family this year, the virtual red envelope function in WeChat has really proven its utility during the pandemic (even though it’s been around for a few years now). I can send my niece my tidings for the new year virtually and painlessly. For those without a WeChat account, using Venmo or other online payment systems with the red gift envelope emoji (🧧— it even says ‘fu’ 福 on it, meaning good luck/fortune) is a great way to generously share your good fortune and invest in the future.

Embrace plant parent vibes

During this time of year, my mother’s favorite activity is visiting the many flower markets and filling the house with a million blooms. She comes home with huge armfuls of peach blossoms and gladiolas, tangled twigs of bamboo and pussy willow, bundles of narcissus bulbs, and pots and pots of her absolute favorite—orchids. 

If my Instagram feed has taught me anything, many of my friends share my mom’s love of greening their personal spaces. And participating in Chinese New Year celebrations will give them an opportunity to add to their burgeoning collections because a home in bloom invites good health, more wealth, and future fortune.

Plants and flowers play a major role in new year celebrations and each type has a symbolic meaning: orchids symbolize fertility; peach blossoms attract romance; pussy willows encourage prosperity and growth; blossoming kumquat trees bring abundance and happiness; chrysanthemums invite longevity. The most important thing is to fill a home with blooms and life in vibrant colors that are inviting to the Ox and all the good fortune it might bring with it.

Clean more than just your physical space

If there’s a corner of my home that I haven’t cleaned, reorganized, or redecorated since the start of COVID-19 lockdown, I’m certainly not aware of it. I’ve considered and reconsidered every inch of my home since March and cleaned everything within 10 feet of me 20 times over. So, luckily, I won’t need to focus too much time on cleaning and decluttering my home this time around to make space for the new year’s good luck infusion. 

Instead, I’m choosing to focus my energy on spring cleaning my personal life. The last few months of social distancing and general isolation have given me the opportunity to take stock of my life and focus on what matters to me, who I want to be, and how I plan to continue to do the work I need to do to meet those goals. I’ve thrown everything on the table for examination and asked myself the question: Does this serve me and the people in my life? Just as in decluttering and cleaning, I’ve done my best to organize each thing into keep, donate, or trash, and in doing so, let go of a lot of things that weren’t serving me. 

It’s a big emotional and mental undertaking as Chinese New Year approaches but it’s a good habit to start — this mental and emotional cleaning— and one I’d like to continue into the year of the Ox.