Home Culture How Locals Are Celebrating Lunar New Year 2021

How Locals Are Celebrating Lunar New Year 2021

by Yiwei Gu
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The Lunar New Year celebrations will take different forms this year. Granted, for the local Asian diaspora living far away from their extended families, Lunar New Year in North America has also been different from what it is at home — smaller and fewer dinner parties, video calls with relatives in another time zone — but the occasion has always been a communal one, filled with dim sum brunches and TV binging nights with friends. Many would even take the trouble to travel back to Asia every other year to see families. Not this time, though. Nevertheless, festivity is in the air. Red packets and Lunar New Year gift boxes are laid out for sale in Chinatown shops and local Asian supermarkets. And many families are stocking up frozen jiaozi {gyozas} and tangyuan {similar to mochi} — both Lunar New Year must-haves. 

A friend living in Jersey City told The Hoboken Girl that he and his wife have taken the opportunity to do some long-due dusting and decluttering, another new year tradition. Others, however, haven’t started planning yet. “The pandemic, you know,” they would say.

Still, the Lunar New Year is a big deal for the local Asian community, even in a pandemic year. The Hoboken Girl has talked to three local young Asian Americans about their plans for the Lunar New Year — and how you can celebrate, as well. 

locals celebrating lunar new year 2021

Zoom With New Friends

When asked about plans, F. Peng already has a full schedule for the Lunar New Year. A small group of friends she and her husband met through a professional mentoring network is going to have a small party on Zoom. For her, it’s a great opportunity to bond with these friends outside the professional context, and she is keen to let her non-Asian friends in this circle experience the festivities. She has been thinking about Zoom-friendly activities for the occasion. “We are going to break into Zoom rooms for board games, karaoke, maybe we’ll improvise something else,” she said. “And there’s going to be a Zoom potluck.” Despite all that’s been said about Zoom fatigue, especially Zoom dinner parties, Peng is not deterred. It would be fun to try new recipes and learn about the specialties in other households. “We’ll probably make a steak,” she said. 

Big Community Party Moved Online

Others are moving their celebrations online as well. Yu Hang, the headmaster of Tongyan School, has been busy preparing for a virtual Lunar New Year celebration for this year. The event has been a proud annual tradition of the school. Anyone interested is welcomed to join young students, parents, and teachers to experience music and dance, participate in cultural activities, and sample Chinese food. Last year’s event was canceled at the last minute, right around the time when the epidemic first broke out in Wuhan. This year, Yu Hang and his colleagues have been trying to move the festivities online for the first time.

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Over the past two weeks, he has been talking to local musicians to arrange Zoom performances, as well as preparing young students for poem recitals and singing. The virtual platform, unsurprisingly, poses logistical challenges. “We used to have booths for different activities. But over Zoom it’s hard to have many different activities ongoing at the same time. We have decided to use the break room function on Zoom. There might be a ‘room’ for calligraphy, one for ink painting, for example. And people can browse from one room to another. Unfortunately, there would be no sampling Chinese food this time.”

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As for himself, Yu said he will be spending the New Year’s Eve and New Year with his family. “My family are all here. So we can be together. But many young people in our Jersey City community can only see their parents on video calls this year, which is tough,” he said. When asked whether he already has plans for the new year feasting, he said  “There will be gyozas, that’s for sure,” he laughed. “It’s a nice tradition.”

Work Hard, But Eat Lots of Food, Too

locals celebrating lunar new year 2021

Zhang works at an accounting firm. January and February, the “Lunar New Year season”, is also her busiest time of year, when the firm needs to audit the clients’ annual financial reports. Late nights and working weekends are common, leaving her little time for a new year celebration.

This year is no exception. When Hoboken Girl contacted her in late January, she has been working nonstop for almost a month and expects the hectic regime to go on until the end of February. Nevertheless, remote working has given her more flexibility for personal travel. She is contemplating taking the long-distance bus to upstate New York for the week of Lunar New Year, where her boyfriend is doing a post-doctoral fellowship. “It’s either working from home here [in Jersey City] or working from upstate New York.”

In fact, busy work schedules have always been a small inconvenience for those who celebrate the Lunar New Year. Even before the pandemic, some people would work from home for a day or two if their schedules allow; some would even take a week-long vacation around this time to travel to Asia. The good thing is many companies have in recent years rolled out more flexible work from home and time-off policies to accommodate minority workers and some offices even organize Lunar New Year-themed activities for everyone.

See More: Keming: A Sichuan Restaurant in Uptown Hoboken

For Zhang, being busy at work doesn’t mean she won’t have any fun at all for the festive occasion. “We might do a hot pot,” she said. For her, it makes sense, since it requires almost no preparation at all. Bring a large pot of broth to boil, {regular broth or made from ready to use hot pot soup base}, have a few kinds of fresh vegetables and proteins ready {thinly sliced meat, shrimp, or tofu all will do}, and everyone can start to dunk and swish whatever they like. It’s delicious, cheerful, and really warms you up in the cold weather.

Even if she would be too busy for a hot pot meal, there is also a plan B. “At least there are gyozas!” she said, not dispirited at all. For Zhang and many Asian Americans, having gyozas on Lunar New Year’s Eve has gone beyond an annual ritual.  Wherever they are, whether pandemic or not, a warm plate of gyoza never fails to bring back cheerful families home and family, as well as hopes for a better new year.

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