Students talk Lunar New Year

Illustrated by Shaheen Virk

By: Madeleine Chan, Kelly Chia, Vivien Ying Qi Li

I have come to realize that the Lunar New Year represents a renewal of sorts for me. 

Every Lunar New Year, my paternal grandparents treat my family and I to a meal at a Chinese restaurant. This isn’t your stereotypical orange chicken and chow mein, though. This isn’t even your standard sharing of dishes like Beef with Fried Rice Noodle (Dry) or Yang Chow Fried Rice. No, this is the FANCY stuff the kind of stuff that white people gawk at when they hear that it’s a thing that people actually eat. Things like jellyfish appetiser plates, black fungus medleys, and fish maw soups. I am drooling just thinking of the splay of seafood atop the round, clothed tables, glistening from the multiple bright lights illuminating the room.

However, this annual filing of our privileged bellies with delightful Chinese delicacies (though, my grandparents wouldn’t DARE to splurge on any other day) always creates a void of guilt within my heart. This isn’t the way that most people celebrate. This isn’t the way that most people can afford to celebrate.

I have come to realize that the Lunar New Year represents a renewal of sorts for me. Whether it’s turning down shark fin soup again or continuing to criticise my grandparents’ view of the Hong Kong protests, I am reminded that I have the power to channel my immense privilege into something that can make a difference.

I don’t know if I actually believe in any traditional ideas about how the turning of the new year represents a whole new “me” a whole new life. All I know is that the Lunar New Year is a time where I get to spend more time with my extended family, share a good meal, and be reminded of what really matters. — MC

 

Wondering if the traditions that I joyfully accept today is something that I am able to teach my children tomorrow motivates me to embrace my identity, and to try harder, regardless of the humiliation.


Before Lunar New Year begins, my family and I clean the house, in honour of the spring cleaning tradition. We often celebrate with drool-worthy dishes at large Chinese restaurants with lazy Susans, passing morsels of steamed sea bass onto neighbouring plates. When we tuned into the radio, I smiled as I heard various renditions of 恭喜恭喜 (Gong Xi Gong Xi), a popular traditional Mandarin song sung during the Lunar New Year. My parents exchange 紅包 (hong bao), or red pockets, with me and I accept them gratefully. This is a cherished time for me, a moment where I get to thoroughly enjoy the increasingly rare time I have with my family. 

As an immigrant who has lived in Canada for much of my childhood, Lunar New Year is also a confusing time. When I join dinners with family friends, I struggle to hold a conversation with my relatives. They tell me that I speak Chinese well, but I know that I don’t speak it fluently. It’s a humbling feeling to be Chinese, and to feel like you don’t uphold that identity as well as you could. Wondering if the traditions that I joyfully accept today is something that I am able to teach my children tomorrow motivates me to embrace my identity, and to try harder, regardless of the humiliation.

And on yet another year where we gasp as a large plate of king crab settles on our table, I look around at the cheerful faces around me exchanging anecdotes in Cantonese that I might never fully understand. They smile back at me, and I realize how privileged I am to be able to participate in these traditions today, and still have time to ask questions and understand them.  — KC

The New Year is one of the few times I actually get to see my extended family; because of this, every time I think about Lunar New Year, I think about family and spending time with loved ones.

Having grown up in a pretty traditional Chinese household, our Lunar New Year celebrations are on the more extravagant side. Preparations always began well before the New Year. Our family would clean — as it is believed to “sweep” away the bad luck — and put Spring Festival couplets on every door in the house. My mom would also put kumquats in our rooms, as the fruit symbolizes good luck, health, and fortune. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, we would have a big family reunion dinner and exchange red envelopes. The New Year is one of the few times I actually get to see my extended family; because of this, every time I think about Lunar New Year, I think about family and spending time with loved ones.

The 15 days after are spent mainly with family, too. Every day, my mom has some sort of festivity planned out for our family to do together. For example, on the first day of the New Year, we wear new clothes and eat 羅漢菜 (lo hon zai), a mixed vegetable dish,in the morning. Each ingredient in the dish is meant to represent something: glass noodles are meant to symbolize long life, while chinese cabbage represents prosperity. We also call our distant relatives to wish them a happy New Year and sometimes go watch lion dance performances. 

To be honest, having lived in Canada all my life, I don’t really know why we do the things we do, or how they came to be. What I do know is that each year, during this time, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be able to spend time with my loved ones, which is more than enough for me. Hopefully, you, too, can spend some time with your friends and family this holiday. Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! — VL