Happy Chinese New Year, February 1st, 2022! Xiannian hao!

Tomorrow marks a new year in countries that follow the Lunar calendar. More than 1.5 billion people will celebrate across Asia and among the Asian diaspora in the Western hemisphere. Lunar New Year is the most significant holiday in the Asian calendar and is named based on the calendar’s alignment of the moon, sun and earth.

Food as simple as oranges (whose name means “achievement and success”) and bean curd (whose name means “good fortune for all”) as well as many others are staples in the holiday diet. In both Mandarin and Cantonese speaking countries, the “Lunar festival” lasts anywhere from one week to a whole month. Schools and businesses are closed, choice foods and dishes prepared, gifts given and decorations and fireworks purchased.

Although I have not observed the holiday since leaving my parents’ home in my 20s (where, for complex reasons, European Christmas celebrations eclipsed Chinese New Year ones), each year I write the cousins from the Chinese side of my family who have immigrated to Canada and who still celebrate Chinese New Year.

When they first moved to Canada, they found it difficult that the Lunar New Year was not celebrated by non-Asians in Canada, while Christmas (which was new to them) was the country’s busiest holiday. Over the years, my Chinese cousins have turned to celebrate a hybrid of both, usually saving a few days of holidays in late January or early February to mark the festival of their birthplace.

This year is the “Year of the Tiger,” which carries associations of vigour and vitality. When invited by a Chinese host to join them for a meal, you can expect that generous quantities of very elaborate and complicated-to-prepare dishes will be served. Hosts often cook for days (if not weeks) ahead, to honour family (especially elders) and to enjoy time with children and friends. 

In turn, guests to others’ homes are expected to bring thoughtful gifts that carry associations of good luck, health and prosperity. I recall boxes of loose tea leaves, boxes of fruit (signifying wealth and safety), domestic supplies like tea sets, small appliances and crockery (especially if the host has recently moved), alcohol (if the host drinks it) and tobacco (if the host smokes—and here, the host is deemed to be male—the culture can be notoriously sexist).

My limited knowledge of both Mandarin and Cantonese languages limits my involvement in the Lunar New Year’s festivities. But as a communications specialist, I’m always glad to refer to popular expressions of this holiday. In fact, many expressions abound to wish others well in Chinese, including “Xinnian hao” (a friendly wish of “New Year’s goodness” in Mandarin) and “Gong hei fat choy” (a friendly wish of “happiness and prosperity” in Cantonese).

Although Rick Steves and others continue to “introduce” viewers to other countries on his popular PBS TV specials, we all know that the best way to learn about other cultures is to travel there and immerse oneself in them—something we still cannot do, in Covid times.

If you’re considering future travels, why not consider learning a new, Asian language, such as on the Chinese network, italki.com, where I teach English to non-Native speakers.

And more information can of course be found online, such as here: