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Weaving Lunar New Year Traditions, Old + New

22 Jan 2023

"We have to have noodles and wear red," my flatmate said as we planned our first Lunar New Year celebration in London. For both of us, Canadians with family from Hong Kong and Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is a celebration we share with a myriad of traditions, some old and now some new. As the beginning of a year based on the lunar calendar, or lunisolar calendar (moon cycles), the Lunar New Year is observed by many East, South, and South East Asian cultures along with Middle Eastern cultures and all their many diasporas, like myself. In China, it may be referred to as the Spring Festival. In South Korea, you’ll hear it as Seollal. In Vietnamese, it’s called Tết. For the Indian subcontinent, not one, but many New Year’s Days are recognized. Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Puthandu, Vishu, Navreh, and others represent a culture as diverse as India itself.

In my household growing up, cleanliness was emphasized during the Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival. Taken quite literally, cleaning the house and ourselves was a ritual to wash away the previous year and gave us a sweep to welcome the new. Like preparing a fresh canvas for an upcoming year of fortune and refreshed life. It's a practice I've taken long into the year and the rest of my regular routine. When life seems unbalanced or just out of step, my first remedy of choice is a long bath for a clear head and calmed perspective.

In the instance of having noodles and wearing red, each represents longevity and fortune, respectively. The physical manifestation of lengthy noodles symbolizes a long and lasting life. Consuming them claims it for the new year ahead. And red, as many have come to learn with the exchange of vividly-colored envelopes often embellished with gold, welcomes fortune into your life. As a child, I knew that red envelopes meant a little extra pocket money for the piggy bank. But, as an adult understanding the value of a dollar earned, the exchange comes much more earnestly.

As a person living far away from family and home—both where I grew up and from my homeland of Vietnam—making new traditions around Lunar New Year was one of the many joys of forging a life of my own. With our first Lunar New Year celebration in London, friends and my found family were invited for family-style noodles, dumplings, and more, but most distinctly, a viewing of three movies we deemed fun for the Lunar New Year. A triple-bill movie marathon of Disney's Mulan, 2001 Hong Kong sports comedy Shaolin Soccer, and Jackie Chan's 1995 classic Rumble in the Bronx. Before the screening, another friend of ours, whose family expertly makes handmade dumplings, did a mini-workshop on the best pinching techniques to finish the perfect portion. Then, as a group, we stood around the table, working pockets of dough to the best of our abilities, setting each one with laughter at our blunders and optimism for a better try next time.

A sentiment many of mixed cultural or geographical backgrounds will share is the feeling of intermix. Through language, accents, habits, and more, we apply to a culture we grew up learning new elements from what we experience. The Lunar New Year is all about abundance. About looking ahead. And for me, taking the traditions of the old together with something new, integrating something more, embodies everything fresh about the new year.

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