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A Lunar New Year in the Pandemic

February 12, 2021

By Hsuan Hsuan Dai, M.A., Licensed Mental Health Therapist, UWCC

Hsuan Hsuan Dai, Hall HealthDearest students,

新年快樂! Happy Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival, Tet, and Seollal! Just as we kicked off the new cycle of the lunar calendar with the Metal Rat last year, we invite the Metal Ox into 2021. Coronavirus has done a number on humanity and challenged our resiliency in dealing with stress, isolation, and the ability to cope with change and loss. Perhaps the year of the Metal Ox came just in time to give us the power in strength, determination, and grounding. I sure need all of that to keep moving forward after everything that happened in 2020. 

Chinese New Year celebrations are the most significant event for my family. I have a few cousins who live in different areas of the world. It is rare to have everyone in one place for the festivity, but it is very meaningful when it does happen. It is the one holiday I do my very best to rearrange my life and take the six thousand mile trip to be in Taiwan. My favorite things about celebrating Chinese New Year are – the opportunity to gather with my extended family and eat different transitional foods that symbolize luck, fortune, prosperity and peace, and health in the coming year; watching younger generations playing card games, and parents and grandparents playing mahjong; and making homemade Chinese dumplings and hiding (new) pennies in them. I always hope to eat the ones with pennies to have the reassurance of a positive fortune in the New Year. There was one year I ate about 15 dumplings without any pennies in them. Although my luck with pennies was poor, I stuffed my stomach with the delicious 元寶 (golden ingots, aka dumplings), and I regret nothing. 

We just had an unusual Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US a couple of months ago, and many of us had to get creative to celebrate with family and friends from a distance. The collective grief in the loss of normalcy and connection to traditions can be heart-wrenching. I feel so happy for those of you who could be home and celebrate with family for the holiday.  On the other hand, some of you had to stay in the US or quarantine until you could reunite with your family again. If that was you, I am so sorry that you couldn’t be there with your family on such a special day. I haven’t been able to spend Chinese New Year with my family in Taiwan for the past two years and I will miss it again this year. I feel sad, angry, and anxious from FOMO. Some of you may experience similar emotions, too. Whatever emotions show up for you, it is valid. It is okay that you’re feeling this way. It is very hard and sad. I get it. Sometimes it is helpful for me to reflect on the joyful and positive memories I’ve had celebrating the New Year with my family. It makes me feel like I’m there, with them again. I know the future of COVID is still very uncertain, but try reminding yourself that this is temporary and that things will be different again.

Although we are not able to spend the holiday with family and friends in person, it doesn’t mean we have to skip the celebration completely. It can be helpful to find routines or engage in traditions to cope during uncertain and stressful times. Maintaining some sense of normalcy can be essential when we’ve experienced so much loss, distress, and fear of not knowing. It reminds us of things within our control and helps us find a sense of stability and familiarity. As a result, practicing traditions give us a sense of purpose and meaning. 

Thank goodness for the internet and advanced technology, as we can facetime with our family during the holiday. Although it might require some time zone coordination, it is better than nothing! Here are some ideas that might be helpful to celebrate the New Year when you’re away from your family: 

  • Coordinate video chats with family and eat together! Sharing stories and discussing the meaning of the New Year and what you hope the year of Metal Ox can bring for your life. 
  • Gather items and make homemade dumplings! Show off your mad skills to your family and eat those 元寶 (golden ingots) for good fortune.
  • If you live with roommates or have a quarantine bubble, consider celebrating together! (Hot pot and Boba, anyone?) If it’s too much work or too complicated to cook at home, treat yourselves and get your favorite Chinese takeout!  
  • Get crafty! Paint a picture of a gold Ox, make your own春聯 (spring couplet), red lantern, etc. Engaging in activities that celebrate the tradition can help us feel connected with our culture and community. 

Hopefully, this blog post reaches you and lets all of you out there who are not able to spend the holiday with your family know that you’re not alone in this. We see you. We’re holding you in our hearts during this difficult time. I understand it’s still not the same as spending the holiday at home, but I hope that this can spark some ideas and conversations with your family or people around you to reach out and reconnect with each other. What I’ve learned is, when we reach out to our community, it can create meaningful connections and increase a sense of belonging. 

This is not an exhaustive list of what to do but some options. Please feel free to take what’s meaningful for you and leave the rest. Or even come up with editions of your own. If it would be helpful to talk to someone at the Counseling Center, please feel free to contact us. We are here for you and care deeply about your well-being.

As always, we are thinking of you all and take good care. Wishing you a happy new year! 

平安如意! 身體健康!

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