Just as you thought you’d hear the end of your colleagues wishing each other Happy New Year… we’re celebrating what I often proudly claim as, the OG new year.
The Lunar Calendar that many East and South East Asian countries use to celebrate cultural events, has (according to legend and quick calculation) been around 4,219 years before the Gregorian calendar. You may know it as Chinese New Year, but it’s also celebrated by Vietnamese and Hoa people (Tết Nguyên Đán), Koreans 설날 (Seollal), and others in East and South East Asia. Each culture celebrates differently, and I’ve only experienced the Chinese version before. When we can finally travel again, I’m eager to experience other versions too.
According to Chinese Zodiac, this is the Year of the Ox. We hate generalising, but people born in the year of the Ox are known to be reliable, calm, trustworthy and also super stubborn. My Zodiac sign is a Rooster, apparently making me perfectly compatible with Ox in romantic relationships. No wonder my parents (an Ox and Rooster have had a stable, fruitful and loving marriage for over 30 years). When I told my grandmother I met my partner on Bumble, she asked if the app asked for his year and time of birth to help match compatibility. Bumble, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome to slide into my DMs and I’ll share her other feedback too…
The first day of the Lunar New Year is on 12 February 2021, so I took the day off as annual leave (who doesn’t like a Friday off?). It seemed a bit pointless since we can’t celebrate how we would typically (visiting other households, watching the Lion Dance performances in Leicester Square, joining in the celebrations in Trafalgar Square). However, if you have a diaspora spread as widely as many Chinese families are, you’re going to need a whole day to coordinate Zoom sessions across time zones! I’m determined to eat as much as possible to make up for all the guests I won’t be hosting this year. After all, Chinese New Year is about welcoming in the new, a fresh start, and connecting with family and friends over food.
Growing up in Singapore, we were incredibly jealous of how people in China had an entire week off to celebrate, and they even set off firecrackers! I couldn’t really complain though, since our parents made us visit up to eight households a day, which meant they couldn’t really keep track of how many chocolate coins we were eating… We exchanged oranges with each household we went to, per tradition. Now, even the smell of Vitamin C tablets reminds me of celebrating Chinese New Year. ‘Satsumas’ (easier for small hands to hold) and ‘oranges’ when pronounced in Mandarin or Cantonese sound similar to the word ‘wealth’, and their colour symbolises gold, making this a really auspicious fruit!
So, if you’re looking to brighten your fortune this year, get that Vit C in, via skincare, or with an orange as part of your 5-a-day.
I remember running around in traditional outfits when I was younger, while staying up past midnight (superstition told me if I didn’t, my parents would be struck down by lightning – who makes these things up to scare children?!). I’d get mad at my parents when they took my angbao (red packet) money and sensibly put it in savings instead of letting me spend it. This year, I’m probably celebrating in loungewear: although I set a reminder not to wear my white or black trackies to avoid upsetting my grandma over Zoom, since white or black are considered unlucky colours! I’m still staying up past midnight for old times’ sake. I’m delighted that my elder sister is now married, so has to give me red packets, which are given by married elders to younger members of the family or friends.
It’s tradition to wear new clothes during Chinese New Year, but if you’re into sustainable fashion, you can rent something new on By Rotation, including this red floral Rixo dress I’m wearing – red is a lucky colour too! The floral pattern is a bonus: florals on brights are strongly associated with Lunar New Year, because it’s also known as the Spring Festival! Florals and spring have been together for well over 4,000 years… so Miranda Priestly can keep her snarky remark to herself.
If you’re glamming, go all the way with a giant scrunchie by Jeneral Store – she makes them using deadstock fabric and even has a scrunchie subscription. Embellish your look with some earrings by Tori Tsui, who donates part of the profit towards climate justice and mental health advocacy. Who says you can’t do good while looking good?
One of my favourite things about the celebrations is the food: I appreciate a new year where no one pushes fad diets: you’re actually encouraged to try new foods and eat as much as you want. Whether you want to try your hand at making snacks, like these pineapple tarts, or a main course – the hashtag #ESEAEATS on Instagram will give you tons of recipe inspiration.
And after all your hard work cooking (or deciding what to get delivered from your favorite Chinese restaurant), you can wrap it up with some ice cream from my name twin Yee Kwan (my Chinese name is Kwan Yee!). Her ice creams, sorbet and desserts make me so nostalgic for the incredible food in Hong Kong.
If you’re looking for recommendations on where to order from:
Another wonderful thing about celebrating Chinese New Year: it’s the perfect excuse to skip housework. The act of sweeping or taking out the garbage during the celebration period symbolises dumping out good luck (an excellent reason to skip taking the bins out when it’s rainy). So since you’re getting cosy at home this lockdown, why not light up a candle by &Chai (look at this peony candle that’s been named after Animal Crossing characters!)
Something important my mother reminded me of: you shouldn’t wash your hair on the first day of the Chinese New Year. In Mandarin and Cantonese, the character for ‘hair’ is the same as that for ‘becoming wealthy’, and it’s not considered a good start to your year to wash away your fortune! You could pop on a podcast while you do a hair mask on the second day of the Chinese New Year. I recommend Viv Yau’s “But Where Are You From?” or Georgie Ma’s “Chinese Chippy Girl” on her experiences of growing up in a Chinese takeaway in the UK. But…let’s be real, who’s even tracking their last hair wash anymore?
If you’re loved up with someone whose Zodiac animal is compatible with yours and things are getting saucy, maybe send these noods by Amy Pix? Maybe it’ll lead to both of you giving out red packets someday!
If you want to know how Chinese New Year is celebrated and learn some Mandarin for yourself or the younger generation, Asian Kid Lit UK has lots of recommendations on bilingual books.
There’s no doubt that this year’s celebrations will be quieter and smaller, but I have hope that next year we’ll be in Leicester Square, watching the exciting Lion Dances. We’ll get to sit in cramped Chinese restaurants and share food without worrying about social distancing, and I’ll get to go home and collect all the red packets in person. But for now, we stay home and watch our sleeping cats.
Happy Lunar New Year to all my friends who celebrate it in any form!
Queenie, is a 27-year-old consultant, born in Hong Kong and raised in Singapore; she moved to London for university and the rest is history.
View this post on Instagram