Deep Cleaning, Making Wontons, Wearing Red — How I Honor Old Traditions and Create New Ones for Lunar New Year 

published Jan 18, 2023
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Illustration of a man and woman celebrating Lunar New Year
Credit: Dingding Hu

There is tremendous value in upholding traditions. It connects us to our history, pays homage to those who have come before, and binds us to those who are far away. However, I think there is much to be said about creating new traditions, too.

With our ever-changing world, perspectives shift — they must — so it is natural that sacred rituals evolve as well. Lunar New Year has always been spent diligently preparing for the next 12 months ahead within my family, which includes deep cleaning our home to sweep away the bad from the previous year. 

The idea of cleansing your home is symbolic of resetting yourself to allow for good fortune to come in the new year. After every nook and cranny has been scrubbed, dusted, decluttered, and polished, we would rest for the actual holiday. There is absolutely no work on the day of the Lunar New Year, and definitely no cleaning allowed, in case you sweep away any of the good luck that starts trickling in.

The night of is typically spent sitting around a bounty of dishes, which are whisked in front of you with a quick turn of the faithful Lazy Susan. There are lai see (red envelopes filled with money, sometimes with the kind that jingles, and sometimes — if you’re lucky — with the kind that doesn’t), being passed around like candy on Halloween. And you cannot forget the fireworks and lion dancers! Admittedly, I was afraid of the lions when I was younger, but funny enough, I now have a version of the symbolic creature tattooed on my back.

Credit: Lynsey Beth Futa
The writer celebrating Lunar New Year with her boyfriend and family in Hawaii.

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself far away from family — 4,957 miles to be exact. And while New York has been exhilarating and full of new adventures, when Lunar New Year comes around, it is apparent how much I miss home in Hawaii and our family gatherings (even with the highly suggestive comments and overly aggressive cheek-pinching).

At first, I did little to observe the holiday in New York. But one year, I was able to coerce my boyfriend and his family to head to a Chinese restaurant for a nine-course meal to properly celebrate. And while that first year was not ideal — we were seated two hours after our reservation time — we celebrated again the following year, opting instead to stay in and make wonton (Chinese dumplings), like my grandma taught me.

Credit: Lynsey Beth Futa
Homemade wonton.

Since then, the celebration has evolved, including varying locations, rotating dinner menus, the presence and absence of lai see, and so on. In the midst of the unpredictable, however, there remain the constants: You must always wear red for good luck, the house should be immaculate to ring in the new year, and there should be no work or cleaning on the day of. We have adopted this in New York and diligently clean, upgrade, and donate older/unwanted items to make way for all the anticipated good to come. Out with the old and in with the new!

Lastly, and most importantly, Lunar New Year should be spent with loved ones. And if you are unable to head “home” for the holiday, build your own legacy — wherever you are — continuing Lunar New Year traditions while creating your own customs along the way.