Chinese New Year & Lunar New Year
(Friday 12th February 2021)
Chinese New Year is also known as the Lunar New Year, Spring Festival or Tết (Vietnamese). It is greatly celebrated worldwide by those of Chinese and Asian heritage. It’s like the equivalent to celebrating January 1st but following the lunar (moon) calendar… yes, that’s a real thing! Traditionally, the festivities go on for 16 days from new year’s eve up until the start of the lantern festival. For 2021, this would be from Feb 11-26.
Tết is a very joyous time of year and usually Asian families really go to town with the decorations. My dad tells me that in Vietnam tet festivities actually lasts between 2 weeks and we have many traditional customs that are carried out during the days and the eve of the lunar new year. This includes our ancestral venerations (prayers for dead loved ones) – kind of like Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead), and the burning of paper money, clothes, bags, shoes and hats for the ancestors, family banquets are prepared with special food, traditionally eaten only at the new year. And the handing of the infamous red envelope that every child looks forward to most of all… because it’s real money inside those red pouches handed from parents and older relatives to the younger ones.
On Chinese New Year’s eve, this is when the spring cleaning starts. It’s forbidden to clean or sweep your house as well as showering, cutting with scissors, and swearing on Chinese New Year because it’s said to be bad luck! Some of these ‘rules’ are not followed as strictly in today’s society but don’t be surprised if our older relatives still believe this.
Chinese New Year in London
Unfortunately for 2021, Chinese New Year in London is cancelled. They are not going to be hosting any live events in accordance to government guidelines but not all is lost because there will be the organisers, London Chinatown Chinese Association (a non-profit organisation run by volunteers) will be putting on a show online via Youtube to uphold the festivities. Feel free to tune in on February 14th to watch past and new performances.
“To celebrate the Year of the Golden Ox, which has traditionally taken place over the middle weekend of the two-week celebrations. On Sunday the 14th of February, the LCCA will present an online review of Chinese New Year and its past, alongside new Chinese artists for us all to enjoy.”LCCA, 2020
How to celebrate Chinese New Year in lockdown
Chinese New Year is easy to celebrate at home as a lot of the traditions involve being around family. Obviously with the pandemic, it means you can only celebrate it with your immediate household however here are ways you can still enjoy the festivities, whether you are Chinese or not. As it’ll be half-term you could teach the kids briefly about the festivities; why it’s celebrated, what it’s about and how you can celebrate it at home.
In previous years, it’s been hit and miss for me to wear red on the day but I try my best and this year I will definitely make the effort. Ideally, it’s traditionally supposed be your ‘Sunday’s best’ kind of clothes but nowadays anything clean and decent will do (so nothing old, torn or stained). We are currently living 99% of our lives in PJs and loungewear so my outfit will probably be a pretty top and leggings.
Watch the festivities online
As I mentioned above, the London Chinatown Chinese Association will be screening performances online via Youtube so check that out. If you’re joining from across the pond, there’s so many online events hosted from the US such as the 2021 Virtual Lunar New Year Festival by the Chinese Community Center which is a free event but make sure you’ve registered for it on Eventbrite.
Here are some dates to add to your diary, all events below are free:
Get Drawing: Chinese Dragons Workshop
Join artist Pui Lee in this mindful art session where children and adults are guided through this dragon drawing activity. Materials needed are listed in the link below. No drawing experience needed.
Chinese New Year Celebration
Cardiff Hubs and Libraries are hosting a day full of activities and fun from learning how to speak basic Chinese in their taster session, to learning traditional Chinese painting in the afternoon.
Chinese New Year music and song
In this 60 minute Zoom session Wigan and Leigh College Confucius Classroom will share with everyone traditional music and songs associated with Chinese New Year celebrations.
Animals Origami Workshop
Learn more about the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and their traits with Yuen Humble. Learn how to make 4 easy paper origami animals, following origami techniques – ox, snake, monkey and tiger. Suitable for children.
Eat LUCKY foods
Asian culture is very superstitious, we have numbers we consider auspicious and food we consider good luck! Here are the 7 most common lucky foods to eat at Chinese new year:
- spring rolls – wealth
- dumplings – health
- fish – prosperity
- round fruits ie. oranges, tangerines, pomelos – fullness and wealth
- noodles – longevity
- sweet rice balls – family togetherness
- glutinous rice cakes – higher income/position
Vietnamese banh chung (bánh chưng)
In Vietnamese culture, we don’t have ‘good luck’ foods but we do have certain dishes we make for tet. As the lunar new year symbolises the start of spring, we usually feast on steamed fish (seabass), spring rolls, candied dried fruits, round fruits ie. pomelos, oranges, tangerines, and boiled chicken with a lemon salt and chilli dip. Our main speciality has to be bánh chưng, also known as autumnal cake. Although it’s not a cake per se; it’s a savoury, square parcel made of glutinous rice with the inside filled with pork, fat and yellow mung beans. It’s wrapped in banana leaves which colours the outside rice green and gives it a distinctive flavour. I love them, they’re usually made by families to give to each other as gifts. You’ll only find these made and eaten at new year, it’s a special cake. 🙂
Hand out red envelopes
This is THE BEST bit! Well, for the children anyway… these little red envelopes contain money for children, usually for the children of relatives and friends but nowadays you can gift to anyone you like. Traditionally it’s seen as bad luck to gift coins unless it’s the special Chinese round coins, notes are preferred. Try not to give crimpled or ripped notes – lucky for us, our notes are made of plastic so they won’t rip or crimple so easily.
The amount you put in is up to you but usually for young children between £5-10 is enough and older children aged 10-16 then £10-20 is a decent amount. Children older than this can receive £20+ but it’s up to you as the whole point of giving the red envelopes is for young children and to wish them a wealthy future. By 16 years, you’re legal to work so some families may not see it as necessary to gift their children once they’re at this age.
If you’re not able to get any lucky red envelopes, you could alternatively place the money inside plain red card envelopes. They don’t need to be any larger than a card size (roughly A5 – A6).
Craft Activity: Chinese paper lanterns
Making Chinese lanterns can be a fun and easy craft activity for the kids to do. If the simple ones are too easy for your kids, there’s more challenging ones that you can try out. I’ve linked up a few Youtube videos of my favourite paper lantern crafts. I think that watching how to make them is easier than reading but I’ve added a couple links if you to read.
We’ll be making some so I’ll upload these photos once we’ve given them a go – we’ll be sticking to the easy-medium ones! 🙂 PS. if you do have a load of red envelopes spare at home, you can try making this amazing hanging red envelope lantern.
How to make a Chinese paper lantern
Paper lantern for Chinese new year activity
by Mrs. Sara Tiemogo
How to make Chinese lanterns – easy DIY
by Craft Factory
How to make 24-unit
If you’re not keen on crafts, you could always purchase a crafts box or some paper lanterns that you can decorate instead.