How to celebrate Lunar New Year in lockdown

Posted by cc576 at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
Getting into the New Year spirit with Tracy Li and Jessie Tan

Lunar New Year is nearly here. A time of mesmerising fireworks and spectacular lanterns, public celebrations and traditional performances, good food, good wishes and most importantly, family. The New Year falls on Friday 12 February and will see us wave goodbye to the year of the rat, predicted to bring wealth and surplus, and take the year of the Ox by the horns, an animal valued in the Chinese zodiac for its role in agriculture and its positive characteristics.

Ten ways to uphold Chinese traditions this New Year

With a lot of our Chinese students and staff unable to join in family celebrations, some for the first time, and celebrations muted across the city, we spoke to Tracy Li, Associate Director of China Operations, and University of Leicester PhD student, Jessie Tan, to find out what staff and students can do to get into the New Year spirit, and keep Chinese celebrations and traditions alive.

1) Find new ways to celebrate

In recent years, the University has celebrated Lunar New Year in Centenary Square, with a traditional wishing tree adorned with red ribbons of hope, dragon dances and traditional food. This year, Tracy has taken celebrations to social media. “We’ve created a campaign which, in English, translates to ‘Speak out your love’. Combining New Year with Valentine’s Day, we’re asking students to use our social media to send a special message to someone they love. The purpose is to remind everyone that even in lockdown we can still celebrate, appreciate and connect with others.”

And for both Tracy and Jessie, Lunar New Year this year is about celebrating new love. They are both celebrating with new partners for the first time, who are both learning Chinese to make their other halves feel more at home.

2) Send a card to a loved one

Although a recent tradition, sending a New Year card has become increasingly popular. Red, which symbolises luck, joy and happiness, is a key colour, as is gold which represents wealth and riches.

3) Connect with people virtually

Face-to-face celebrations may be off the cards this year, but virtual connections are just as important. Traditionally, the first day of the new year is spent with immediate family. The following day with the father’s side of the family, the day after that the mother’s and then friends and neighbours. That’s a lot of virtual get togethers. “The pandemic has changed how everyone communicates,” laughs Tracy. “Even my 89-year-old grandpa video calls me from China!”

“There’s also a lot of events to take part in online,” says Jessie. “As well as our University’s own events, the Museum of London has a whole programme of virtual events across the entire festive period, as does Eventbrite. This is such a good opportunity to remind people that they can celebrate during lockdown thanks to online events.”

4) Eat traditional Chinese food

In China, big celebrations call for banquets, but that’s not easy to come by explains Tracy. “This year, Chinese restaurants in the UK are only open for takeaway. A lot of Chinese communities living in areas where there are no Chinese restaurants have set up dedicated WeChat groups to order local deliveries, so they can get traditional Chinese food delivered fresh. We’ll be ordering variety of Chinese vegetables and lamb slides for making hot pot and dumplings, and also a celebration cake and desserts from one of the locals in our village.”

And what’s on the table depends on which region of China you’re from – the north or the south.

“In the south (namely the canton areas), we eat purple sweet potato soup. Purple and the sweetness of the soup represent good luck and progress for the new year” explains Jessie. “We’ll shape the names of the food into something symbolic – such as the fish dish into ‘nian nian you yu’, meaning financial abundance at the end of the year. In the north, hot pots and dumplings are traditional. It’s a simmering bowl of broth with lots of flavorsome ingredients, cooked at the table. And no matter what part of China you’re from, dumplings are a must on New Year’s Eve.”

5) Live stream the Chinese New Year Gala

As the most watched New Year television programme in China, the Lunar New Year Gala is broadcast on New Year’s Eve. The variety show features performances such as music, dance, comedy and drama and is a tradition for many families to tune in and watch together, enjoying the performances and the laughter they bring.

6) Give someone good fortune with a virtual red pocket

Perhaps one of the most exciting traditions for younger people in China is the red pocket. This is an envelope containing money that senior people and newlyweds will pass on for luck. And often the amount of money is carefully thought out. “In China the sound made when you say the number 520 is the same as ‘I love you’, and 666 also means ‘everything goes well for you in the coming year’, says Jessie. “So the amount of money you receive will have a deeper symbolic meaning.”

And let's not forget WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, which includes various functions like instant messaging, and online payments. It can also be used to send virtual red pockets to contacts, as well as personalised New Year messages and the appropriate festive emojis.

7) Light some fireworks

“Fireworks are very important for Chinese people to celebrate,” says Tracy. Traditionally, Chinese firecrackers were lit to ward off evil spirits, and this has formed the tradition that’s still enjoyed today. “I’m from the south, near Hong Kong, and watching the fireworks in Victoria Harbour is a long-time tradition for us,” says Jessie.

8) Play a game of Mahjong

Mahjong is a tile-based game, which is similar to rummy. It’s played with four people, who each have a set of tiles with Chinese symbols on. The idea is to draw and discard tiles until you can form a winning hand. Perfect for playing with siblings or family members on New Year’s Day and a good way to communicate and find out gossip from each other.

9) Don’t cut your hair or clean your house

There are a lot of things you should avoid doing during Chinese New Year, as they bring bad luck. One of those is using scissors or sharp objects, which means cutting your hair is out of the question. Cutting your hair is symbolic of cutting your stream of success and wealth, and so the majority of hair salons will close until all festivities are over. Similarly, Lunar New Year’s Eve is a day for cleaning the house and ridding the family of any bad luck – any sweeping or cleaning after New Year would risk sweeping away the good luck of the New Year.

10) Buy or send some flowers

“My parents used to take me to the flower market, where young, single ladies would buy huge branches of cherry blossom, which is thought to bring good luck,” says Jessie. Cherry blossom is symbolic of good fortune, new life and are an emblem of love and affection.

To find out more about how the University is helping you celebrate Lunar New Year, visit our online schedule of events.

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