Marking the Year of the Ox

The Year of the Ox begins amid curbs on holiday gatherings, travel restrictions and fears over new coronavirus variants
People rushing to plant the first joss stick of the Lunar New Year at the stroke of midnight at the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple in Singapore on Friday (local time).

Though travel and parties may be discouraged in much of the world right now as the Covid-19 casts a shadow over Lunar New Year for the second year in a row, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we can still mark the occasion.
Lunar New Year falls on Feb 12 this year as we bid farewell to the Year of the Rat and say hello to the Year of the Ox.
The pandemic has forced many to change the way they celebrate Lunar New Year.
In China, many preparations and celebrations are expected to be done virtually as the government has asked its citizens not to travel home to prevent the spread of the Covid-19.
In response, some tourist sites were offering free entry for those forced to spend the holiday away from their families.
Meanwhile, companies have launched tools for people to have a “cloud lunar new year”, providing everything from virtual markets to conference tools for online reunion dinners.
But no matter how one celebrates, there’s a lot of preparation involved if you want to follow the Lunar New Year rule book.
It all begins about a week ahead of the new year.
On 26th day of the last lunar month – Feb 7 this year – festive cakes and puddings are made.
The word for cakes and puddings is “gao” in Mandarin or “go” in Cantonese, which sounds the same as tall, meaning improvements and growth for the next year.
The big cleansing is done on the 28th day, which is Feb 9 this year.
Lunar New Year fortune banners are hung on the 29th day, Feb 10.
Normally, Lunar New Year fairs will be set up during the last days of the lunar year, most selling trinkets and flowers for the new year.

Worshippers wearing face masks making offerings of incense sticks during the first day of Lunar New Year at Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong Kong, China, on Friday (local time). – Reuterspics

But because of the pandemic, many cities have downsized or cancelled their festivities.
The year usually wraps up with a big family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve, which falls on Feb 11 this year.
The menu is carefully chosen to include dishes associated with luck, including fish, puddings and foods that look like gold ingots.
After the feast, families would stay up past midnight to welcome in the new year.
Though many Western nations refer to the Lunar New Year/Spring Festival holiday as Chinese New Year, bear in mind it’s celebrated not just in Chinese communities all over the world but other Asian nations such as Vietnam and South Korea.
Countries that observe Lunar New Year often offer three to seven days of public holidays but celebrations aren’t complete until the 15th day of the first lunar month, also known as the Lantern festival.
Families tend to have different sets of rules and traditions, but most will bless each other with auspicious words like “san tai gin hong” or “shen ti jian kang” (wish you good health).

People taking part in Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown area of Manhattan in New York, United States, on Friday (local time). – Reuterspic

During normal times, when people aren’t in lockdown, they’re expected to visit relatives and friends during the festival – except for the third day of the month.
Day three of Lunar New Year (which falls on Valentine’s Day this year) is named chi kou, or red mouth.
It is believed that arguments were more likely to happen on this day so people would visit temples and avoid social interactions.
There are plenty of other rules and superstitions attached to the Lunar New Year.
For instance, don’t wash or cut your hair on the first day of the new year.
The Chinese character for hair is the first character in the word for prosper.
Therefore washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away.
You’ll also want to avoid purchasing footwear for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese.
Do, however, wear red. It’s associated with luck and prosperity.

A baby panda climbing on a Lunar New Year display at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China’s Sichuan province. – APpic

Throughout the festival, hosts will prepare candy boxes and snacks for their guests.
Married couples are expected to hand out red packets filled with money to children and unmarried adults to wish them luck.
The seventh day (Feb 18) is said to be the day when the Chinese mother goddess Nuwa created mankind and, thus, is called renri (the people’s birthday).
Different communities in Asia will serve different birthday foods on that day.
For instance, people in Malaysia enjoy yeesang, or a “prosperity toss” of raw fish and shredded vegetables whereas Cantonese people will eat sweet rice balls.
The highlight comes on the last day (Feb 26).
In ancient Chinese society, it was the only day when young girls could go out to admire lanterns and meet boys.
Thus, it’s also been dubbed Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Nowadays, cities around the world still put on massive lantern displays and fairs on the final day of the festival.
Some create more sparks than others.
In China, the small town of Nuanquan puts on a spectacular “fireworks” show by throwing molten metal against a cold stone city wall. – CNN