Families find news ways of celebrating Lunar New Year traditions
February 11, 2021
Vancouver sisters Linh Huynh Quinn and Judy Phan are each in their own kitchens, watching on Zoom as chef Denice Wai sizzles minced sausage, scallops and shrimps, and gives feedback to the dozen-plus others on the call about how thick their rice-flour mixture should be.
The groups of siblings or parents and grandparents with kids, young and grown-up, are following along to learn how to make steamed turnip cake for Lunar New Year, which begins Feb. 12.
“All of you, can you show me your batter,” calls out Wai. “Linh, I think you have to add a little bit of water.”
Not being able to prep batches of food together or book large tables at restaurants because of the pandemic is one thing to overcome again this year.
“A lot of times, people will say, ‘Well, I learned how to make this dish from my mom or grandmother,” said Phan. “To do this (online), especially in a multi-generational way, is just fantastic.”
Finding new ways also highlights the challenge every year of how to instil, from one generation to another, not only the traditions, but the values behind them, from respect for family reunion and elders to hope for abundance of fortune and fresh luck or happiness.
“As our children are getting older, getting together is not as easy as it used to be. Everybody’s got a schedule. So by sharing of food, it’s one way,” said Quinn.
Phan is doing the online cooking class with her four-year-old son while Quinn is taking photos and notes to pass to her 20-year-old son, who grew up eating turnip cake at Lunar New Year with his grandparents.
“Hopefully, even if they get really busy, they’ll still find their way home,” said Quinn.
“We just thought we could do something to keep people connected,” said Helen Yu, an experienced marketing exec, who recently started EverythingGoesVirtual.com and organized the charity event.
In Chinatown, several organizations joined to organize, “Ox-picious Vancouver Chinatown LNY: Until the Cows Come Home.” It’ll celebrate this year’s animal, the Ox, and feature lion dancing, kung fu demonstrations and a dumpling eating contest.
“We were resigned to not having any festivities this year, as everything was cancelled, but we were spurred into action due to demand from the community,” said Michael Tan, president of the Chau Luen Athletic Club.
Elsewhere, there has been wide interest in one New Westminster parent’s efforts to create Lunar New Year for her two-year-old son, not just in their home, but so he could see it being celebrated by others.
Elaine Su wrote and delivered a letter to her mostly white neighbours, many she had never met. She explained her idea and asked if they might decorate their front doors with red lanterns, banners and diamond-shaped posters of Chinese characters.
More than 75 neighbours said yes to her offer of dropping off these decorations with instructions on how to display them and explanations of what they symbolize.
The result is a collage of festive door fronts and some heartening and revealing conversations, said Su. “I’m actually surprised how many people have got in touch with me or even come by the house.”
She is an elementary school teacher-librarian and also co-chair of the board at the Hua Foundation, a non-profit that connects young, Asian diaspora to work on social and community issues.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people that, ‘this is a nice story,’ that ‘this is joyful!’ I think, especially from BIPOC folks (this year), there are a lot of stories about fighting to gain something or we’re fighting against something. And this is just a story that I think a lot of people felt joy about.”
“The reinventing and relearning of tradition and culture is something that’s a big part of parenting for immigrants and the children of immigrants,” said Su, who remembers celebrating Lunar New Year as a child in Shanghai.
“If the pandemic hadn’t been a thing, we probably would have taken him to Chinatown. We would have watched the parade. We would have done all these things even though I never did any of those things growing up.”