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A new way of celebrating the Niu Year (along with a special “guest”)

The Lunar New Year has always been family focused. For many who have to leave families and hometowns to earn a living, it is the only time of the year they return to spend time at home.

Lunar New Year 2021 will be different – no thanks to a global pandemic. For many of us in Malaysia, the Year of the Ox may be spent in lockdowns.

Travel restrictions and the need to adhere to SOPs to break the chain of transmission means that this would be an “ox-traordinary” new year. It may just be a year where get-togethers and reunions are carried out from a distance, virtually, rather than in person, physically.

What would I miss most this COVID new year?

1. Lunar New Year family reunion dinner!

I will miss the my favourite steamed abalone and mushroom – a once-a-year treat because the ingredients are so expensive! Not to mention the soup, fish and chicken and yes, the opportunity to “loi hei” yee sang with my family. The children love yee sang. It is the only time they can play with food and not get scolded.

I will miss the bantering round the dinner table and the opportunity to catch up with each other’s lives. On the bright side, at least we won’t bet getting the annual “ah girl ah, when are you getting married” question from our aunties!

Although we may be separated physically, it does not mean we cannot cherish each other’s presence in this festive season. I, for one, will try to make my Zoom Reunion Dinner special – even if I would be eating Abalone-flavoured Japanese Ramen!

2. Lion and Dragon dances

The lion dance is one of the most important traditions of the Lunar New Year. More than just adding to the festive atmosphere, it is believed to bring prosperity and good luck for the upcoming year.

In cities, lion and dragon dances are more for commercial purposes but outside of the cities, it is a treat not only for the family who commissioned it but for the entire village, especially the children.

While I will not miss the ear-deafening clanging of the cymbals and beating of the drums this year, I will definitely miss the graceful and gravity-defying acrobatic maneuvers of the lion and dragon dancers.

On a brighter note, there is always YouTube and ist hundreds of lion dance performances.

3. Temple Visits

Lunar New Year is also one of the busiest seasons for Buddhist temples. Devotees and visitors throng temples on New Year’s Eve, as it is believed that paying homage to the gods and your ancestors before the start of a new year will bring good fortune and good luck all year around.

Fo Guang Shan Do Zen Temple and Thean Hou Temple are the must-gos every Lunar New Year – more so for their beautifully-decorated facades as well. Oh, and don’t forget the special temple-prepared vegetarian meals taken amidst the sonorous chanting of the mantras. I guess this is one thing that cannot be replaced online.

Rather than to wallow in what we will be missing, what are some of the traditions that we can still keep?

1. Spring cleaning!

Photo by Anton on Unsplash

Yes, we can still clean our house (or room!). Spring cleaning is a long-observed tradition of the Lunar New Year. Spring cleaning this year is definitely going to be different as well. On top of tossing out expired and unused items that no longer spark joy, we will need to go a step further. Disinfecting and sanitising our homes with greater vigour will be the way to go.

While we are not expecting any visits from relatives and friends, there is no harm in keeping the house free from virus.

2. New Year decorations!

Lunar New Year festivities are not complete without plenty of auspicious colours. We can still hand plenty of red lanterns around our homes or room. Decorating takes our minds off the not so pleasant situation and may just boost our mental health!

One common custom is to place the “Fu” Chinese character upside down to bring good fortune to the family living in the house. We sure need lots of good fortune this year!

3. Angpaos!

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Thanks to the advent of cashless society and the boom of e-wallets, the traditional of angpaos giving can still be observed! With technology we have options like online transactions and e-wallets. It won’t be surprising to see the tradition of Angpaos giving going cashless more widely this New Year.

For sure, this Lunar New Year this year is going to be unique. As we usher in the Niu Year, let us do so with sense of responsibility and in unity with all Malaysians.

Wherever you may be celebrating, make sure you wear your Lunar New Year mask and follow SOPs!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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