The lunar new year has finally come, and for many of us, that means a fresh flow of amazing food, reunions with friends and family, a little bit of extra money and lots of joy.
Historically, celebrations started according to traditional lunisolar Chinese, East Asian and Southeast Asian calendars. Families and friends would go to each other’s houses. It has always been a time-honoured period of heartfelt gatherings.
In most regions, people would bring oranges to the houses they visited, and the hosts would give hongbao (red packets) to unmarried guests. This usually means that the younger kids get pretty rich.
This custom started with a traditional story about red packets warding off evil and protecting the younger generation. Of course, lunar new year isn’t all about the money. One of the most exciting traditions of the lunar new year is the lion or dragon dance. A professional troupe of dancers, usually in groups of two or three, bring these important oriental animals to life. They do so by doing acrobatic stunts and controlling the head and body of the lion or dragon. They are usually accompanied by a band of professional musicians who add to the intense atmosphere.
The whole display is incredibly colourful and loud, as this well-loved tradition is historically supposed to scare off demons so that people could start the new year well.
In certain parts of Asia, one can witness lion or dragon dance troupes going from door to door to bring good luck to people’s homes, shops and schools.
So what is Norwich doing to celebrate this joyous occasion? The city has held a couple of events in honour of the lunar new year.
A Chinese new year auction and buffet has been organized by Norwich City Council at the Riverside Chinese buffet. As food is extremely central to the celebration of the new year this is the perfect way to celebrate.
Additionally, World Café organised a night of food and games for Chinese new year. This will give people a chance to get together to learn about Chinese culture and have fun.
UEA students have been equally as enthusiastic about the new year. There was a Spring Festival Gala at the LCR. The event that was run by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. It saw a night complete with dragon dances and traditional musical performances. Additionally, Southeast Asian society had a hotpot buffet at Wanfo, and Singapore Society had a steamboat dinner at Baby Buddha. You can see how important it is to these communities that they gather as a group and have an authentically prepared dinner.
One significant dinner tradition that is still upheld today is lousang. It is the act of mixing yusheng (literally translated ‘raw fish salad’) as a family or group. Everyone uses their chopsticks to try to mix the ingredients, lifting them up high for luck. It’s always great fun and is one of my favourite traditions.
The lunar new year will always be close to my heart, and for those who grew up celebrating it, I’m sure it will always be a special two weeks for them too.