Getting Ready for Lunar New Year
Lunar new year has always been a big celebration in my family. When I was little, our family didn’t celebrate any of the major Western celebrations like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Lunar new year was like our Christmas. It was something we always looked forward to because our relatives would all gather at my parents place, pack it to the brim and have lots of food. We would get to spend days playing with our cousins, eating big family meals together and collecting lots of lai see (lucky red pockets filled with money). It was always loud and somewhat chaotic but so much fun.
As we get ready to welcome the year of the Tiger this year, it won’t be as loud and chaotic but just as meaningful. Lunar new year celebration normally lasts for 15 days and is the biggest celebration in Chinese culture. Traditionally for the Chinese, the lunar new year is a celebration to welcome Spring. Lunar new year is commonly known as Chinese new year but it is actually celebrated by many different Asian cultures and they all have slight variations to the celebration. Here we’ll share with you the Chinese traditions that my family follows for getting ready for the lunar new year and the Korean traditions that Eunmi’s family follows.
With my family, the main preparations for lunar new year are:
- Clean the house! This is the most important one because it’s to get rid of any bad fortune that’s accumulated in your home over the past year. Make sure to clean everything, leave no surface untouched, you should be able to eat off your floors by the time you’re done cleaning. It’s serious business.
- Buy new red pockets and go to the bank to get new bills. You can skip this step if you’re not married yet. However, if you’re feeling generous you are welcome to prepare red pockets for your family and friends.
- Put up ‘Fai Chun’ or spring couplets in English. The spring couplets are blessings and good wishes in the form of four character poems.
- Do all your new year shopping to prepare for family dinners. Buy lots of noodles, clementines and new year snacks.
Once Lunar New Year arrives:
- No more cleaning! Otherwise you will get rid of the good fortune for the new year. Especially washing or cutting your hair, is a definite no no. Showering and bathing that day is also not recommended. You want to retain all your new year good fortune! Whatever you didn’t get around to cleaning before new year’s day will have to wait till the second day at least. Load your dishwasher but don’t press start!
- Celebrate with family dinners. This is the time when all families gather together and celebrate the new year. Typically with large dinners and houses brimming with people. This is when things get loud. With the pandemic still going on the dinners will be limited to immediate families but will still keep the tradition of eating special new year dishes that bring good fortune.
- Married couples will hand out red pockets to family members who are younger and not-married. It’s extra fun being a kid during lunar new year, red pockets keep coming at you to the point where it’s hard to keep track who they are from. Though I never got to keep the red pocket money, my mom always put it into my education savings right away. Or that’s what she told me anyway, ha!
My mom gets us all to wear a new pair of pants for the New Year because in Cantonese pants is “fu” which sounds like the word fortune in Cantonese. If you have noticed, the theme for new year’s is to always bring in lots of good fortune!
Here Eunmi shares how her family celebrates lunar new year, they are Korean and their traditions are different but with similar sentiments:
- Eat dduk gook (rice cake soup) - Traditionally in Korea, everyone’s age goes up one year on New Year’s Day and this process isn’t complete unless you have a bowl of the dduk gook. I remember as a kid I’d try to eat multiple bowls just to see if I’d age faster! The white round rice cake in the clear broth represents starting the year with a fresh mind and body. The white symbolizes a clean and fresh start, and the round coin-like shapes of the rice cake symbolizes upcoming prosperity.
- Wearing hanbok (korean traditional outfit) and bowing to the elders - We have a small family in Canada so this is mostly reserved for our parents. It’s mostly the kids that wear the hanbok when we get together as a family these days - they do a sebae (formal bow) to the elders as they say “We wish you a prosperous life in the New Year”. Wearing clean new clothes symbolizes starting the new year fresh.
- Receiving sebaetdon - As the elders receive the saebae, they reward the youngers with sebaetdon (money) along with well wishes. Traditionally, the elders used to reward them with fruits, rice cakes and food which eventually shifted to giving fresh or clean money.
- Reconnecting with family - We spend the holiday with families, playing games and eating together, catching up and reconnecting together.
To get into the lunar new year festivities and celebration, try these recipes for some of our favourite food:
Now that you know some of the traditions, it’s time to get ready! I need to block off a few days just to clean. It’s definitely something to get the whole family involved. Assign everyone a specific task or room and let’s get this done fast so that we can welcome the new year soon.