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What does Lunar New Year mean to you? We ask four Kiwis to weigh in

Girls at Chinese New Year parade


A time of family, good fortune and fun, Lunar New Year is a meaningful calendar date for many communities around the world.

Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world – especially by people from Asia and Southeast Asia, regions that have traditionally used a lunar or lunisolar calendar (unlike the Gregorian calendar followed in New Zealand and other western nations).

Chinese communities celebrate Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, which marks the beginning of the Year of the Rat; this year it began on January 25, and celebrations last until January 4. Other Lunar New Year holidays include Seollal the Korean New Year, Tết in Vietnam, and the Losar festival in Tibet.

In recent years global fashion brands have been embracing the holiday, and this year labels like Gucci (in collaboration with Disney), Burberry and Dover Street Market released special collections.

At their heart, however, Lunar New Year celebrations centre around spending time with family and friends. And with the current distressing situation for people in China and the impact it’s having on Asian communities around the world, family is front of mind more than ever.

With Spring Festival coming to a close for 2020 (and news that Auckland’s Lantern Festival is canceled) we asked a handful of Kiwis to share what Lunar New Year means to them.


 

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Hongi Luo, brand manager at TikTok

I grew up bumbling around different schools and neighbourhoods. It really unsettled me, and I spent a lot of time denying myself the things that I loved about the culture my parents brought with them to New Zealand. It wasn’t an active choice, but one out of survival.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to realise how much comfort I find in things that are “Chinese” and I’ve become less self-conscious of the colour of my skin or the shape of my eyes.

My parents were, and still are, incredibly hard-working immigrants, and Chinese New Year was always the one day that threaded us all together as a family; I still remember as a toddler the assembly line of my aunty, mum, and grandma making dumplings. Hundreds of dumplings.

This Chinese New Year I had to travel for work. I was in LA and it was so weird that the world went on without even a blink of the eye.

For me Chinese New Year is the time when the hardest working people I know finally come home and drink too many beers, eat too many dumplings, and go swimming – because it’s summer in NZ.


 

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Lucy Zee, content creator

Before the endless feast, before the money stuffed red envelopes, the fireworks and the drinking – the most important thing about the Lunar New Year is seeing your family.

It’s the one time of year that your Asian parents will probably not yell at you. If you’re lucky you might even get a compliment!

I’ve always said there are two times in a year your Asian parents will be nice to you; 1) during Chinese New Year celebrations and 2) when you come home and tell them you got a 70 percent discount on a full-priced item.


 

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Anny Ma, PR manager and journalist

Xin nian kuai le! We’re Chinese, so that’s what my family always says to each other every Lunar New Year. It means ‘Happy New Year!’ in Mandarin.

Chinese New Year is a huge deal. China isn’t a Christian society, so Christmas and Easter aren’t massive dates on the calendar, but Chinese New Year is. We call it Chinese New Year but it’s the Lunar New Year to many other groups across Asia. Everybody returns home to be together to celebrate, it is like Christmas in that sense.

As the name suggests, it celebrates the start of a new year according to the lunar calendar. Growing up I never really got it, but as I’m older and now understand that the standard Gregorian calendar isn’t actually the only one, it makes sense that we move and celebrate with the universe, not some predetermined schedule decided centuries ago – especially when everybody calls January the practice month of a new year anyway.

I generally avoid stereotypes because they’re just preconceived notions of people based on assumption not fact, and generally rather racist, but the common symbols and imagery like red packets, loads of food, and bright red and yellow decorations are actually accurate.

Deeper than that, it’s a time of tradition and celebration – of being with your loved ones and celebrating the year that’s passed while setting yourself up for a new year of good fortune. Having traditions like the food you eat and the behaviour you should/shouldn’t do is really grounding, and reminds you that you’re part of something bigger. It’s a celebration based on fortune, and you want an auspicious year ahead so you behave as such.

For example, we would eat noodles because they symbolise a long life, and you don’t do any cleaning on New Year’s Day in case you clean away your good fortune that has come in. You prepare for the year on the eve, including having all of your food ready to go as well, because you shouldn’t use knives/scissors on New Year’s Day in case you’re inviting in cutting off your luck. Cutting your hair in the Lunar period is a massive no, and washing your hair is also not allowed on New Year’s Day. It’s considered really bad luck as you’re washing away/cutting off your fortune.

You also read your Chinese Zodiac astrology and learn about what will be good for the year and what to avoid for your sign and element. It’s a very fun and super wholesome time, and the celebration reminds you that you’re really part of something bigger in the universe, and it offers a connection to your ancestors as well.

I usually roll my eyes at the ‘Chinese New Year Capitalism’ where they rebrand a product with a symbol/colourway in the hopes of making sales, but this year I was really moved by Nike and Apple’s ads that actually captured the essence of the holiday.

They were both centred on family, and not just about selling a new red-coloured item. To me, it symbolised a shift in the advertising industry of actually including the right voices to tell their stories, instead of referring back to tropes conceived by people’s perceptions of culture.

Having people ask for an explanation of the mannerisms in the ad creates a lot of cultural pride for me, it’s a cultural exchange that non-East Asian people really haven’t been interested in or engaged with until now. I guess with a move towards a more inclusive and diverse society, it makes sense.

 

It’s a time of beauty and I hope understanding of it grows every year. I also hope that everybody has a wonderful year of the Rat and it brings them all the prosperity and good fortune they deserve, and more!

Xin nian kuai le.


Katherine Lowe, model booker

Lunar New Year was always a thing we celebrated in my extended family, it was always affiliated with a big dinner and red packets, but that’s all I really knew about it growing up.

It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but it’s only recently I’ve even looked up what the Lunar calendar even is! I’m particularly invested this year – this year is the Year of the Rat, which is the year I was born (and also the name of a pretty good song by Badly Drawn Boy); I read somewhere that it’s unlucky for it to be ‘your year’ but I’m hoping that’s fake news…


Introduction: Emma Gleason
Photo: Getty Images

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