Superstitions, Firecrackers & Food: Here’s How 6 Australian Women Celebrate Lunar New Year

Mum has ditched most of the superstitions (or traditions, depending on where you stand) that defined her Lunar New Years growing up. She doesn’t clean every inch of the house on New Year’s Eve anymore, nor does she pull out new clothes to wear on New Year’s Day (though she still wears red). 
She recalls throwing firecrackers in the narrow alleys of Shantou, China, where she grew up with her four siblings, the sound filling her eardrums with a satisfying crack that the handheld fire hazards would make when they came in contact with the ground. That tradition hasn’t carried over since she’s lived in Australia for over 30 years. One that has though, is food.
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Back in her day, hot pot was the feast of choice for Lunar New Year's Eve — the tradition is called wei lu (圍爐), which literally translates to ‘around the stove’. The morning after, her mum (妈妈) would wake up early to make tang yuan (汤圆), a glutinous rice flour dessert that’s sometimes stuffed with black sesame or red bean (or with ginger, if you’re like my cousins). I make my mum make this often. 
Our Lunar New Year is quieter now, and not just because we don’t have access to firecrackers. But for the Zhous, it’s still a time to gather around the dinner table, just like our ancestors once did.
Here, I speak to 6 women about what Lunar New Year means to them.
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Tara Chandra, digital artist and content creator

What's your ethnicity?
Chinese-Indonesian.
What does Lunar New Year mean to you? 
Time for family, praying to ancestors, food and more food. (It also means ang paos [red envelopes, usually stuffed with money], shh).
What memories do you have of celebrating Lunar New Year?
Praying to my ancestors in the morning, the smell of joss sticks burning and finding flecks of ash in my hair. My grandpa sitting on a little red plastic seat that was mine when I was a child, poking paper 'money' into a fire bucket with a rusty metal stick. My grandma passing me two coins to throw on the ground to see if my ancestors are there yet, and imagining them eating and drinking the food we'd laid out for them. Carrying the food inside and getting excited to eat it all that night when my grandparents would throw a big party at their house with all their friends. 
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How will you be celebrating it this year?
It's been low key the past few years with COVID and my grandparents getting older. We'll pray to my ancestors in the morning with food and money offerings, and then spend the day like normal. At night we might go out to dinner — we haven't decided yet, but it'll be quiet with no party!
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Anna May, designer

What's your ethnicity?
I'm Malaysian-born Chinese, 4th generation to Cantonese great-grandparents from Taishan, Guangzhou, where the Mei clan (梅, meaning cherry blossom) originated from. My 23andme says I'm — wait for it — 99.2% Chinese!
What does Lunar New Year mean to you? 
Honestly, as a kid, I remember thinking, "Yes! Another week of holidays and no school, and red pockets!".
As I got older, every Lunar New Year reminded me that I am proud to be Chinese, albeit sometimes I feel that some of the traditions and taboos are quite outdated. For instance, lighting up firecrackers to ward off bad spirits from your house (it's environmentally unfriendly and produces noise pollution), no sweeping during Lunar New Year because that meant you're sweeping your luck away, no napping when someone is visiting otherwise it means you're going to be bedridden all year... yikes.
Although I don't take these taboos seriously anymore, the sacred traditions are still fun and heartwarming to remember. Lunar New Year allows us to honour our ancestors, brings the big family together to eat, and plays too. I am now clinging onto these memories, because I know that someday, I am going to pass these traditions to my children. I don't want to forget or let go of these traditions, because if my great-grandparents can bring these traditions from China to Malaysia from the 1900s, why can't I continue this legacy with my future generations in Australia?
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What memories do you have of celebrating Lunar New Year?
Every year, my family would go on our dreaded traffic-ridden five-hour drive north from Kuala Lumpur to Kedah, my dad's hometown, to have our annual get-together with the extended family. I remember fond memories of returning a day or two earlier to skip peak traffic, our grandparents excitingly welcoming us home, the women busy in the kitchen cooking the Reunion Dinner for our big feast on Lunar New Year Eve. 
The next morning (day one of Lunar New Year) is when we dress up in new red clothes, wish blessings onto the elders in descending order, from the eldest to the youngest adult, to receive our red pockets.
Lunar New Year snacks and cookies (like Bak Kwa, mandarins, pineapple tarts, kuih kapit, kuih bangkit) are on every table to make sure no one, including the guests, has their snacking cravings unsatisfied.
On the 15th day, which is the last day of Lunar New Year, we eat tang yuan (glutinous rice balls). You're supposed to eat the same number as your age you turn that year, to symbolise that you are now a year older. Obviously, I will not be eating 27 of them. LOL. Maybe two big ones and seven small ones for me?
How will you be celebrating it this year?
Unfortunately in the last decade, my family hasn't really been celebrating Lunar New Year as a fun festivity anymore. We take it as a chance to rest, visit, and catch up with each other. 
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With COVID still happening, we will probably do the same thing as last year — chat over video call and hope my grandma's gradual hearing loss means she can still hear me ok.
My boyfriend is was born in China and has been in Australia since he was a child. He's actually quite unaware of many Chinese traditions. So this year, I will get my siblings to come to my boyfriend's mum's to celebrate it the Malaysian way, by tossing yee sang (salmon sashimi salad), and eating some good home-cooked Malaysian Chinese food!
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Shona Yang, founder of Kozziecom

What's your ethnicity?
 I'm an Australian-born Korean. 
What does Lunar New Year mean to you? 
It means a lot that we can celebrate Lunar New Year in Australia because it's an opportunity for us to embrace our different cultures. Up until recently, it was always referred to as 'Chinese New Year' but I love that the conversation is shifting towards 'Lunar New Year' because it helps the community and brands understand that there are different Asian communities.
We're not all Chinese and we're not just 'Asians'. For example, we call it 'Seollal' (Korean New Year/Lunar New Year) in Australia. I've also seen more brands jumping on Lunar New Year — it's cool to see some more recognition.
What memories do you have of celebrating Lunar New Year?
Our family usually celebrates with lots dduk gguk (rice cake soup) and dumplings. When I was younger, I remember bowing to my grandparents and getting some cash in return. I also remember playing traditional Korean games with my family. 
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How will you be celebrating it this year?
This Lunar New Year is a little more special than most because it's the Year of the Tiger. The tiger is symbolic in Korean folklore and history so it's a great opportunity to celebrate our Korean heritage too. 
Kozziecom is hosting a festival in Sydney CBD's Koreatown. A lot of businesses have been affected by the pandemic so we're hoping this event helps revive the area. The event features emerging creatives, small businesses and artwork.
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Jenny Zhou, actor, podcaster, and content creator

What's your ethnicity?
Chinese.
What does Lunar New Year mean to you? 
Lunar New Year means a time spent with all our extended family and closest family friends, a big feast of duck, chicken, fish, noodles, rice cakes, wine — and red bean dessert is ALWAYS involved. Lots of red shown through clothing, hong baos, red wines and red cheeks. It is loud and joyous and a feeling of reunion.
What memories do you have of celebrating Lunar New Year?
There is a Lunar New Year live show they put on every year in China called Chun Wan (春晚) — roughly translating to Spring Night. It airs the night before the New Year and it is extremely EXTRAVAGANT. Performances from dancing, singing, theatre plays, all the best TV show hosts and artists come together for an extremely colourful and loud evening.
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All the family friends would gather at the one person's house who had Chinese satellite TV and all the families and their kids would have dinner and watch the show together. Melbourne is always in daylight savings during the Lunar New Year, so we are three hours ahead. It was the one day of the year where us kids were encouraged to stay up as last as possible (until 3am — which would be 12am in China) to ring in the new year — but none of us ever made it to 3am. I remember falling asleep on bean bags with my friends and getting sleepily carried back to the car, belly full of food and hands full of hongbaos.
Mum and Dad would always place a hong bao under my pillow the night before (you have to sleep on it for good luck!) and even though I'm much older now, mum always finds a way to slip me a cheeky hong bao every Lunar New Year. 
How will you be celebrating it this year?
Unfortunately I've just had COVID so I will not be celebrating in person with my parents this year. I plan on delivering one of their favourite cakes from Bread Top and video calling them on WeChat. I will also send a voice message to my extended family group chat in China wishing them a happy new year. I'm sure we'll find a later date to feast as a family, after all, Lunar New Year goes on for about 23 days!
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Jessica Bahr, writer

What's your ethnicity?
I’m mixed Chinese/white.
What does Lunar New Year mean to you? 
Lunar New Year is such a special time of year! For me, it is mostly an opportunity to think about my heritage, culture, and family. 
What memories do you have of celebrating Lunar New Year?
My family is quite spread out geographically, so cultural things like Lunar New Year are sadly not always as big of a celebration as I would like (especially since it always falls at a time when we have a lot of family birthdays). However, we would often have Chinese food, talk about family history, and sometimes get a small gift in a red envelope. 
How will you be celebrating it this year?
This year will be a little different, as I have recently moved to Sydney, while my parents and sisters are in Brisbane and Melbourne, so we unfortunately won’t be able to all get together. So, for my solo celebration, I will be making some dumplings (or maybe getting them delivered if I’m feeling lazy) and probably watching Mulan on the couch!
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Vivien, journalist

Photo: Getty Images.
What's your ethnicity?
Vietnamese-Australian.
What does Lunar New Year mean to you? 
For me, Lunar New Year (in Vietnamese we call it Tết) is about one thing: family. Big gatherings with aunts, uncles and cousins, lots of food, and of course, little red envelopes stuffed with lucky money. I'm a first-generation Vietnamese-Australian, so I haven't inherited all the proper traditions like visiting the temple, donning a new outfit, or making bánh tét from scratch.
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What memories do you have of celebrating Lunar New Year?
My fondest memories of Tết are sitting around the grill as my uncle barbequed sweet meats, playing Bầu cua tôm cá with my cousins (it's a gambling game a bit like roulette, played only on Tết), and lavishly blessing my aunts and uncles in Vietnamese (so that in return they'd offer us fatter red envelopes!).
How will you be celebrating it this year?
Unfortunately this year, celebrations will be pretty quiet thanks to a combo of COVID, and not having enough annual leave. But I'll video call my parents, light some incense around the perimeter of our house, and give my 2-year-old a little red envelope!
*Name has been changed
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