Gong Hei Fat Choy! Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Yesterday—Sunday, January 22—marked the beginning of the Lunar New Year Festival. Whether you call it Chinese New Year, Korean New Year or Vietnamese Tết, people all over the world have kicked off this 15-day celebration welcoming the first moon of the lunar year.
For the Gregorian calendar normies, the Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the new lunar cycle, the dating system that revolves around the monthly cycle of the moon. In the lunar calendar, each year is represented by a different animal; this year is the Year of the Rabbit for some, but the animal does differ slightly between cultures (it's the Year of the Cat for Vietnamese folks, for example). And the order of where those 12 animals appear in the 12-year lunar cycle has its significance and mythology.
For the purpose of this article, I simply do not have the space to delve into the entirety of The Great Race folk story, but the SparkNotes version of the myth behind the Chinese zodiac is this: Long ago in ancient China, the Jade emperor called on 12 animals for a race that would determine the order of the Chinese zodiac. The rabbit came fourth in this race and is hence the fourth year in the 12-year cycle of the lunar calendar. I could go on at length about the characteristics and personality traits of each animal in the zodiac, but for the sake of my word count I encourage you to go down that rabbit-hole (ha!) yourself.
Lunar New Year (or, for this writer, Chinese New Year), is a slow and intentional time to check in on and send well wishes to your friends, family, coworkers—whoever your loved ones are—and wish them well for the new year ahead.
A big theme in the well wishing exchanged at this time of year is to welcome prosperity, luck and good fortune. This is a text I received, verbatim, from my Chinese father on Saturday, the eve of Lunar New Year:
Gong Hei Fat Choy
Wishing you prosperity in your life
It’s always about money
And he’s not wrong. Hands down, one of the best traditions at Chinese New Year are the red pockets or red envelopes. These are small bright red paper envelopes, usually gifted to children, with a little bit of money inside. As someone who loves money and brightly coloured tiny things, this tradition is a real treat (and I'm pretty salty I've aged out of it).
Speaking of treats—food (cooking and eating it) is a big part of the Lunar New Year celebrations. The food eaten during this time should, for the most part, fall under two categories: it should be the kind of food that brings you joy, and it should be eaten and shared in good company. Traditionally, dishes of dumplings, fish and spring rolls are served (with a big emphasis on the dumplings). And if you’re not confident in the culinary world, there are so many Asian-owned businesses and restaurants to try in this city.
Eric Yeung owns the May Garden restaurants. He has been celebrating Chinese New Year for 30 years in Halifax, and has seen it grow to include more and more people from his community each year.
"[30 years ago] there were not many Chinese people here," Yeung tells The Coast. "And there were not too many Chinese people to celebrate Chinese New Year except for our association"—the Chinese Society of Nova Scotia. "It was hard to get the word out to have other Chinese people come together and celebrate. But now, year after year, it's grown and its importance has grown for the community, for us and the new Chinese immigrants."
Yeung is especially excited for this year’s celebrations, as COVID lockdowns kept the Chinese community from celebrating together for the past two years.
This is a time for connecting with people and culture. In Halifax, the team at HaliTube, the "Atlantic Asian Voice" of the region, and the Halifax Shopping Centre hosted a Lunar New Year celebration featuring a live calligraphy demonstration and dragon dances. If you missed Sunday's events, you can still pop by the display at the mall and learn about Lunar New Year and the Chinese zodiac, and even snap a quick pic under the (faux) cherry-blossom archway.
Over the next couple weeks, a lot of celebrations within Halifax's Chinese community will be held behind semi-closed doors (because, chances are if you are close with someone hosting or attending a gathering, you will be invited to it), with large gatherings of family and friends, the aunties and the uncles. To mark the end of the Lunar New Year, the Chinese Association of NS will host its New Year banquet at Casino Nova Scotia on February 4.
I’ve stopped making resolutions for January 1. When the clock strikes midnight at the end of December, and everyone commits to new goals and BigChanges™, I smile inside knowing that I have at least another three or four weeks to get my resolutions in order.
And then, when the proverbial ball dropped Saturday night, kicking off the Lunar New Year, I was stress free because we have 14 entire days to celebrate and manifest good intentions and well wishes for the year to come. Good things take time and we all have some time to prepare.