12 February 2021
12 February 2021
For Hong Kong-born creative and fashion influencer Yan Yan Chan, celebrating Lunar New Year would usually involve travel and a big, loud gathering with her extended family. After moving to Sydney as a child, her family would travel every summer to visit her maternal grandparents in Beijing to ring in the New Year.
“Chinese New Year’s Eve we’d all get together. There’d be like 30 people all together in this tiny little house in an old part of Beijing and it would be this big celebration and feast. We’d obviously make dumplings. We’d light firecrackers in the street. It was a very traditional, very beautiful celebration,” she remembers.
But, like most major events on the calendar in 2021, celebrations for the Year of the Ox look a little quieter than usual.
This year, Yan Yan is planning a stripped back, not-so-traditional celebration with her dad, brother, and some close friends that pays homage to the warm celebrations of her youth. “Honouring food and family at this time is so important to me,” she says “And it’s nice to transition that and include my friends this year.”
To kick off celebrations, the group will spend an afternoon making dumplings, using a recipe that nods to her Hong Kong roots. “I haven’t been back to Hong Kong in over two years so we’re going to do a Hong Kongese wonton, which is a real favourite. It’s a mix of prawn, chicken, and spring onion – and it doesn't hurt that it’s one of the easier dumplings to fold,” she laughs.
“It’s about getting together and making something with your hands — it’s so meditative. And it really is a labour of love. It’s quite time consuming to make dumplings but it’s worth it,” Yan Yan says, adding that the process allows time for reflection on the changing of years.
“With my Chinese family our way of expressing love and gratitude is really instilled in food. That's how we all connect. The love I experienced as a child from my grandparents was through a home cooked meal. Sometimes we did this through silence! [laughs]. As a culture, love is expressed through deeds, it's about showing up, being together, and sharing an experience together.”
While food will take centre stage for much of the celebration, there are many other cultural elements that Yan Yan’s excited to share with her friends. “Obviously the red pockets are something from my childhood that I’m excited to incorporate in a fun way.” Traditionally, red pockets are small red envelopes filled with money, which are given to friends and family to signify passing on good fortune and blessings. Yan Yan’s not exactly sure what her red pockets will be filled with yet, but she’s stocked up on plenty of the bright red packets in preparation.
Speaking of red, there’s one Lunar New Year tradition that Yan Yan’s already started to incorporate — albeit subconsciously at first. “I just realised, I’ve pretty much already started wearing a lot of red.” In Chinese culture red is a lucky colour, and wearing it helps ward off bad spirits, particularly at the beginning of a new year.
After the many challenges of last year, there are high hopes that the Year of the Ox will bring much more favourable conditions. Yan Yan explains that in the Chinese zodiac, the ox signifies hard work and perseverance, and those values will apply to all of us for the year. “A lot of that will come down to not being scared of hard work. It’ll be a good year to put your head down and better your relationships with family, friends, and work in general.”
While this Lunar New Year celebration will be a little different to previous years for Yan Yan, it’s not without its opportunities. Yes, she’ll miss the huge family celebrations of her youth, but she’s looking forward to sharing the holiday and its cultural traditions with her friends. “It’s the first time I’ve done something with my friends. I’m excited to share the whole experience of being together on New Years with them. It’ll be so nice to let them in and show them my culture.”
By Mitch Parker