Lunar New Year 2021: it’s not really going to be the same

Lunar New Year is about to begin and it will be the first one since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ottawa.

On Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, the year of the ox brings the celebration of strength and determination. Every year has a different animal (there’s also a dragon), based on the Chinese zodiac; every year, the core traits of that animal are believed to be important to each person’s growth and decisions.

Kai Yan, 28, an international student from Wuhan currently studying in the mechanical engineering master degree program at the University of Ottawa, says he is deeply saddened by not being able to celebrate the holiday how he normally would: travelling.

“If not for the pandemic, I would visit my dad in Wuhan,” Yan says. “I would hangout with friends, sing karaoke, watch a movie, eat at a nice restaurant. This year, I’m not doing any of that. I’ll be alone at home watching Netflix.”

The year of the ox is all about hard work, duty and discipline. Instead of dwelling on all the fun stuff he’ll miss out on, Yan closes the interview talking about how he’ll apply the Chinese zodiac animal’s symbolic traits to his studies, work and social distancing habits.

“I’m determined to clean up my life,” Yan says. “I want a respectable GPA in the remaining semesters.”

Lunar New Year is normally celebrated with lots of great foods like crab cookies and moon cakes, but for Norton Ngo, 22, a student in economics at Carleton University, there will be none of that this year.

“In previous years, I’d go to my grandma’s house,” Ngo says. “All my cousins, my dad’s siblings, everyone would gather for a big dinner celebration. My dad owns a restaurant so we’d bring a lot of food. It was always like a big potluck. This year? We won’t be celebrating any of that. We won’t be gathering as a big family. I’m just going to help my dad out at the restaurant on Friday, in case there’s a lot of takeout orders.”

Crab cookies and chocolates are common Lunar New Year snacks.

Crab cookies and chocolates are common Lunar New Year snacks. Photo credit: Alvin Tsang

The same goes for Tai Chan, 25, a graduate in practical nursing at Algonquin College, who expects his new year to pass by quietly.

“Most years my aunt hosts a potluck with several close friends and family members,” Chan says. “This year I’ll just be at home with my parents as I live with them. I don’t think we’ll be doing anything special at all.”

Some Lunar New Year household traditions include seniors handing out red envelopes full of money to younger family members. Living spaces are decorated with red lanterns, kumquat trees, paper calligraphy, bowls of tangerines and more. All of these traditions symbolize fortune and good health.

Kind of like a Christmas tree but a Lunar New Year tree.

Kind of like a Christmas tree but a Lunar New Year tree. Photo credit: Alvin Tsang

Outside of household traditions, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants usually host dragon dances where a group of professional dancers puppeteer a big Chinese dragon (the wingless, serpent-looking kind) and parade around in it. The dance is accompanied by the beating of drums, said to ward off evil spirits.

This year, there will be no dragon dances in Ottawa.

But as Yan says, there’s no point in dwelling on the fun that we’ll miss. Let’s celebrate strength and hard work instead, and let’s have ourselves a productive 2021.


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