Published: February 17, 2021
For a lot of people, Christmas is their biggest and most important festive celebration of the year. For me, this is Lunar New Year. 16 days of celebration, food and festivities; Lunar New Year has always been something I looked forward to since I was a child.
Being an international student, this means that I can’t celebrate Lunar New Year back in my home country but I’m given the privilege of finding new ways to celebrate my cultural roots and share the festivities with my friends.
The last 2 Lunar New Years I spent in the UK, I was able to host my friends and have a small Lunar New Year party with homecooked food, festive music and sharing my culture and traditions with my friends who come from different cultural backgrounds. With the current pandemic situation, I can no longer have such big gatherings in my home but I was still able to celebrate the New Year with my housemates.
Lunar New Year traditions are different for everyone. As a Malaysian Chinese, (tuán yuan fàn) which translates to ‘reunion dinner’ marks the beginning of our Lunar New Year celebration. As we dine together the night before the first day of Lunar New Year, reunion dinners are one of the most important meals we partake in the entire year. Children and grandchildren travel far and wide to return home to their parents/grandparents with a glorious spread of food waiting for them on the dining table.
This year, I was able to have my reunion dinner with my housemates. We each contributed with a dish or two and had an amazing spread of food on our dinner table. Although a different kitchen entirely, the buzzing, the smells of food being cooked, ingredients being chopped, trying to avoid knocking into anyone in the kitchen, the atmosphere felt exactly like how my own kitchen feels like back home during reunion dinner preparation.
Back home in Malaysia, the sounds of fire crackers and fireworks fill the air at the stroke at midnight. Traditionally, the sounds of fire crackers are meant to ward off evil spirits but for many of us, it has become a tradition rather than superstition. We don’t get to see any fireworks displays here in the UK to mark the beginning of Lunar New Year but photographers and videographers back home make it possible for us to have a glimpse of home.
On the first day of Lunar New Year, it is tradition for us to wear red clothes to signify prosperity as the new year begins. We then visit our relatives and other loved ones throughout the next 15 days of Lunar New Year to partake in snacks, drinks and games such as Mahjong and Poker. It is also during this time the host will give out red packets to the children and single people visiting their house as ‘blessings’, wishing them good luck, prosperity and good health as the new year approaches.
As we’re unable to visit any other houses this Lunar New Year, my housemates and I got together to make festive snacks, have some drinks and played some card games. Although it is not entirely the same as pre-covid (bài nián), being able to have a taste of home is comforting all the same.
While these are more widespread traditions that me and my housemates celebrate throughout our home country, I was able to share a tradition from my Foochow heritage with my housemates who come from other Chinese dialects. For our very first meal of the year, each of us partake in a herbal chicken soup with longevity noodles (ji tang miàn xiàn) paired with a boiled egg, signifying prosperity and good health for the year ahead.
Although COVID has made things extremely different especially during this festive season, it has not hindered our spirits to usher in the new year. While celebrations look different and many people are away from the most important part of Lunar New Year, their families and loved ones, there will still be prosperity, good luck and good health in the upcoming year.
To everyone celebrating, (xin nián kuài lè) (Shen ti jiàn kang] (nián nián you yú) Happy Lunar New Year, wishing you good health, wishing you prosperity).
BA (Hons) English Language and Linguistics
Topic: Student lifestyle