• Irene Hau

A Different Lunar New Year

Irene Hau, an Asian American based in Texas, likes to explore issues surrounding mental health, medicine, and culture, but her curiosity covers a range of topics so nothing is off limits. That being said, she adopts an inclusive perspective on subjects and aims to be objective, unless called for or to add flair.

Bright crimson lanterns, echoes of laughter and greetings, and the aromas of spices swirl around a bustling household. Since I was young, Lunar New Year has always been a big occasion that brought the whole family together in joyous celebration. With the abundance of delicacies, decorations, gifts and good fortune, my siblings and I always waited anxiously for the holiday festivities every year. Although 2021’s Lunar New Year will call for an unconventional celebration in light of the pandemic, there are ways to explore the three pillars of the Lunar New Year at home.


Lunar New Year is celebrated between mid-January and February at the beginning of a New Year, marked by the first new moon of the Lunar calendar. Similar to Western traditions, the New Year calls for people to let go of past hostilities and incite new opportunities and perspectives that will lead them to a successful year ahead. Furthermore, in many Asian countries, the term Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year is obsolete. Rather, it’s referred to as simply the New Year - like in Vietnam, it’s called Tết, while in Tibet, it's called Losar. Though the connotations are the same and many of the values of Lunar New Year are consistent across Asia, certain countries have specific ways they honor the holiday. Most common is the Chinese 15-day celebration and many of the aspects of the Chinese version are widely recognized, especially within the US, which has a large Chinese population and the enclaves of Chinatowns across the nation. For 2021, Lunar New Year will fall on February 12, so let’s introduce some practices with adaptations that will allow everyone the opportunity to participate.

Fortune: prosperity attained partly through luck

According to Chinese mythology, red can ward off negative spirits, such as the ancient half-lion, half-dragon spirit named “Nian,” and bring prosperity and happiness. For many households, red is often worn around the holidays, and ornaments and trinkets in red are hung around the living areas, particularly with the Chinese character 福 (fú), meaning good luck, hung upside down, making the character read “arrival,” which signifies to welcome good luck. Additionally, red envelopes filled with money are given out to also ward off evil entities. While at home, individuals can prepare their own 福 banners, adorn red clothes, and send red e-bags to relatives and peers.

Happiness: a state of well-being and contentment

Happiness has a multitude of meanings, but for many, the tradition usually includes meeting with extended members of the family (virtually of course), reflecting on the past, and spending time to recharge.

Health: The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit

Despite not being able to hold gatherings, families can still experience cooking and eating together through a virtual setting. Ideas include learning how to make traditional Asian dishes, specifically rice pudding or candied fruits, or discovering more about family lineage through watching movies and sharing music.