Celebrating Lunar New Year, Family and the Future
In 2021, Lunar New Year celebrations begin on February 12th across many countries in Asia, and each culture has its own unique traditions. The “Courageous Conversations” Inspire Impact Team, which highlights multiculturalism, asked Pengfei (Benjamin) Mao and Thi Tra of Weaver’s Forensic and Litigation Services practice to share with us how this holiday is celebrated in their respective cultures.
Spring Festival (or Lunar New Year) in China
by Benjamin Mao
The Spring Festival originated from ancient Chinese theology and astrology over 3000–4000 years ago. Since different dynasties had different legal calendars, the date of the holiday varied with each change of government. Around 140 BC to 87 BC, the Han dynasty unified all the existing calendars and determined that the second new moon after the winter solstice (late January to early February) is the beginning of a new year. Over thousands of years, various myths, traditions, and even the of name of the holiday itself were established. The term “Spring Festival” was not officially adopted in China until after 1912. Generally speaking, Spring Festival is a day to revere deities and celebrate families.
Today, the Spring Festival celebration lasts 16 days, starting from the Chu-Xi (or New Year’s Eve) and ending with the Lantern Festival (the 15th day after the Spring Festival). The celebration usually starts with a reunion dinner on the night of New Year's Eve. Family members gather in the most senior member’s house to celebrate the passing year and exchange their stories with rest of the family. There are several signature dishes in the reunion dinner, and they all embody good meanings. For instance, steamed or baked fish represent “there will be a surplus every year” (“fish” and “surplus” have the same pronunciation in Mandarin). Boiled chicken or chicken stew represent “good fortune” (“chicken” and “good fortune” also have the same pronunciation in Mandarin). Cabbage is another signature element of the reunion dinner, as “cabbage” sounds similar to the word “prosperity.”
On the day of the Spring Festival, people light firecrackers, hoping to scare off the mischievous deities and burn out all the bad luck. Junior members of the family deliver their best wishes to their seniors. In turn, the senior members of the family offer red envelopes to the young to suppress the aging and challenges in the upcoming year. The lion dance and the dragon dance are also a very popular tradition in the southern part of China. The lion and the dragon are two ancient demigods in Chinese mythology, and they are also an ethnic totem in China. The lion dance and the dragon dance are ways to revere deities, sweep away bad fortune, and uplift and inspire people to work harder in the upcoming year.
Dumplings and rice cake are the must-have dishes for the Spring Festival. In Mandarin, dumplings carry the meaning of the “intersection of the day and the night,” “the intersection of Yin and Yan,” or “to exchange the old with the new.” Rice cake, pronounced “nian gao”, means “the upcoming year will be better than the past years.”
The Spring Festival celebration concludes with the Lantern Festival. On this day, people write riddles on paper lanterns and have other people solve the riddles. There are also grand lantern exhibits along the main streets of each city in China.
In 2021, the Spring Festival is on February 12th. This is the year of the ox. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, large gatherings and interstate travel are not encouraged. Instead of traditional family gatherings, many family members who live in different cities are using technology to stay connected with their relatives. Many of my friends mentioned that the red envelopes will be delivered through some social media applications in China. Companies are also taking advantage of this new normal, and delivering the reunion dinner to each family.
Lunar New Year Celebration in Vietnam
by Thi Tra
In Vietnam, Tet (Lunar New Year celebration) is the time for people, usually a family of three or four generations, to get together to wrap up a lunar year and prepare to welcome a new one. The celebration used to take up to a month, but it has been shortened to a week due to busy lives.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve, everyone is busy with their assigned duties. Some people enjoy their “house-cleaning festival,” which is just a fun name for cleaning and decorating the house. Other people take care of the flowers, especially ensuring their peach blossom trees (in Northern Vietnam) or apricot blossom trees (in Southern Vietnam) bloom on the first day of the year. Others take care of the yummy traditional sticky rice with mung bean cakes in square shape in Northern Vietnam and log shape in Southern Vietnam, dried fruit jam, pickled onions which help digest high protein food, lots of fruits and other family tradition dishes. At dinner time, everyone gathers around a grand banquet to enjoy the last meal of the year. The talk at that time is about things already happening in the year. The ambiance of the reunion is always the most wonderful and happiest of all. Midnight is the time for fireworks, praying, and playing cards.
On Lunar New Year day, everyone in the family dresses up and gets together again to exchange wishes for lucky money. Parents and grandparents will receive wishes and children and grandchildren will receive lucky money. That is why it is the most exciting session for the kids, but not so much for the grown-ups! Later, everyone goes out to observe decorations on the street, which include dragon dances, and to pray at temples, visit other relatives and friends, or ask for lucky letters from calligraphy masters.
In the Vietnamese horoscope, 2021 is the year of the buffalo, which represents hard work, steady progress and patient strength. If you were born in 1961, 1973, 1985, or 1997, this is your year. I wish everyone is always safe and sound, wealthy, and prosperous, and that your wishes will come true.