Friday, February 12, 2021. I sat in my dorm room with a plate full of whatever I could scrounge up from the grocery store—egg rolls, spring rolls, and wontons, all too salty and not quite seasoned enough, on a Zoom call with my partner watching The Joy Luck Club and desperately trying to feel some of the spirit of Lunar New Year. My partner tried very hard to help me by wearing red and bravely venturing into the aisles of their local Asian grocery store. I had a hand-cut paper hanging representing good luck on my Harper Hall door. It was a good attempt, a real try at not losing my favourite holidays when away at school, but it felt like a mediocre replica. This year, though, I was amazed at how much more I could make out of it, and how much I could share and make it a holiday filled with family and friends, bursting with good food and good fortune.
I always want to share food with people. It is my love language and the way I remind people I care. I believe that there is no better time to bond and socialize than with delicious food. However, at different times in my life, the food that connects me to generations of my family and to my grandparents who made a living as immigrants by opening a restaurant, has been made fun of. Little white girls have said that my wontons looked like brains and that my food was weird, insults that my parents believed were left in the past, in their own childhoods. These are comments that can seem innocuous, but they cut deep. To this day, I have sensitivity when I share my cultural foods with friends. I can easily make pasta or crepes instead, and it will be safer. Thankfully, this year I found a group of friends that not only enjoy my food but are eager to learn and try to immerse themselves in my world. For that I am extremely grateful.
When I went home for the break, I was painfully aware that I would be spending another Chinese New Year away from home and was desperate to make sure it would be different. I lamented to my mother and Boh Boh (grandmother) about how much I would miss my Boh Boh’s homemade nian gao: a traditional sweet, warm, cake with a similar consistency to mochi due to its high content of glutinous rice flour. With only one day before my long drive back to Sackville, she dedicated several hours to making me a batch of nian gao to bring with me. I filled bags with frozen dumplings, candies, zongzi (glutinous rice and fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves), and decorations from Canadian-Chinese grocery store, T&T, to feel a sense of home through food. I scoured my house for my brother’s old cheongsam, a traditional outfit, from when he was a toddler to reconstruct one for my dog.
My friends read up on Lunar New Year traditions—proper customs and what is appropriate. It surprised me and made me appreciate them so much because of their willingness to learn and help me feel like I was rightfully celebrating my traditions. On the first day of Lunar New Year—February 1, I once again was on a Zoom call with my partner, but this time my table was full of clementines, dumplings, zongzi, and plum wine. Then, on February 4, I invited a few friends over. We shared red pockets of (chocolate) money and pulled out my kid’s trainer chopsticks, making even more food for festivities.
One of my favourite parts of Lunar New Year growing up was the lion dance. During the lion dance, two people perform acrobatic dances that demonstrate athleticism and strength while holding up a heavy costume lion. The performers interact with the crowd and pull a head of lettuce from the crowd before spraying it back out to them. This is accompanied by loud, thrumming drums that overtake your senses and match the beating of your own heart. In the last few years, I have not been able to experience a performance live, due to COVID and being away from home. However, I was determined to make do. In the week approaching Lunar New Year, I used fabric scraps, faux fur trim, gold ribbon, hot glue, a lot of hand sewing, and a prayer to make lion dance costumes for my and my friend’s dogs. With the drums playing out of my slightly distorted computer speakers, the dogs ran and jumped around as I lured them with lettuce and treats. It was perfect.
I hope that everyone gets to have a friend group as wonderfully kind and celebratory as mine, who not only accept but want to learn and be a part of what I share with them. This was a phenomenal Lunar New Year, and it gives me hope that I will be able to keep my cultural practices and holidays close forever and never lose those parts of me.