February 10, 2024, marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, a celebration that’s considered the most important holiday in many Asian countries and across the Asian diaspora. The celebration marks the first new moon of the lunisolar calendars, traditional to many east Asian countries including China, South Korea and Vietnam. in China it is called Chūn Jié, in Vietnam it is known as Tết, in Korea it is Seollal and in Tibet it is called Losar. Additionally, it is known as Spring Festival.
Each year in the lunar calendar is represented by one of the 12 zodiac animals, all of which represent different characteristics and future. 2024 rings in the year of the dragon—a sign of power and energy, symbolizing a prosperous year ahead.
In honour of this celebration, we asked six prominent Asian Canadians to share their favourite Lunar New Year traditions.
Rachel Spencer Wong, content creator
If you’re a fashion girlie with a love for thrifting and DIY projects, you probably know Rachel Spencer Wong (aka @rachspeed). The Toronto-based content creator (who created the genius and now-viral “333 outfit challenge”) has built a loyal following for her fun, aspirational and yet still approachable take on fashion and styling.
Rachel’s favourite memories of Lunar New Year include spending quality time with her family.
“Every year I celebrate Lunar New Year with my immediate family – as well as my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Now that we’re all grown up, my cousins have their own families and children that we’re also able to share these traditions with,” she says.
One tradition Rachel is looking forward to this year is giving out red envelopes, now that she is married.
“This [year] is my first LNY married, which means traditionally it’s now our turn to give hong bao (lucky red envelopes) to our younger relatives!”
“I grew up being raised by a very superstitious Mah Mah (paternal grandmother), and one superstition I abide by is to make sure we clean our house before LNY. If you clean your house on the day, you’re ‘cleaning’ away all the luck!” — Rachel on her LNY superstitions.
Rachel's Lunar New Year Picks:
- Nudestix Nudies Glow Cream Highlighter Stick in Hey Honey (Available at Sephora): “My fave gold highlighter!”
- ‘Dim Sum Palace’ by X. Fang (Available at IndigoSpirit): “I purchased this book for my cousin’s children during the holidays – in my childhood my cousins and I used to go to dim sum every week! Thought this would be a very special gift.”
- Aesop Resurrection Duet (Available at Hudson’s Bay): “It’s tradition to clean house in anticipation of LNY – and I love any reason to stock up on my favourite luxury hand soap.”
Mai Nguyen, author, 'Sunshine Nails'
Mai Nguyen is the author of Sunshine Nails, a tender and humorous story about a Vietnamese Canadian family in Toronto who will do whatever it takes to protect their no-frills nail salon after a new high-end salon opens up closeby. The book’s complex characters showcase the diversity of immigrant experiences and community resilience.
Mai, who is also a National Magazine Award-nominated journalist and copywriter, was born in Winnipeg, raised in Halifax, and is now based in Toronto. She has fond memories from childhood of celebrating Lunar New Year (or tết) with her family.
“Growing up, my Vietnamese parents would buy these massive trays of dried, candied fruits every year. Ginger, tamarind, wintermelon, you name it. My favourites were the colourful coconut ribbons called Mứt Dừa. I could eat a whole batch of those!” she says.
This year marks her first Lunar New Year with her daughter, and Mai is looking forward to passing on traditions to mark this special occasion.
“I’m looking forward to dressing her up in red and giving her her first red envelope. I also can’t wait to eat this sticky rice cake called Bánh chưng made with glutinous rice, mung beans and pork. It’s best when it’s pan-fried so that it’s nice and crispy on the edges,” she says.
“I’m a firm believer that one should not enter the new year with a dirty home, so I start decluttering my belongings the week prior and thoroughly clean the home the day before. I like the idea that you can sweep away bad luck and enter the new year with a clean canvas.” — Mai on her LNY superstitions.
Mai’s Lunar New Year Picks:
Deborah Lau-Yu, editor-in-chief of Fête Chinoise and creative director of Palettera Inc.
Deborah Lau-Yu is the queen of Lunar New Year celebrations. The editor-in-chief of Fête Chinoise magazine and creative director of Palettera Inc. is the woman behind the Fête Chinoise Signature Lunar New Year gala, an annual black-tie event held in Toronto (and also in Vancouver this year) that celebrates Chinese culture in the Canadian community.
As a designer and creative director, one of Deborah’s favourite Lunar New Year traditions is collecting lucky red envelopes.
“These ‘lucky money pockets’ as I used to call them growing up are fascinating to me…I was obsessed with the design on the red pockets I would receive as a child. I had an affinity toward the very traditional ones because I felt a connection with my grandmother who taught me almost everything I know about my heritage when I was growing up. From the imagery to the words on each pocket, I learned a lot through the symbolism which factors into my understanding and depth of appreciation of Chinese culture today,” she explains.
Another favourite tradition of Deborah’s is feasting. “The feast with the family came with the festivities every year and is something I miss since a lot of my family is no longer around. I tried to capture this sentiment and love for food and culture in our Fête Chinoise tea towel, titled, Feast,” she says.
“I don’t wash my hair on new year’s day. It’s just a tradition and superstitious habit that was passed down through the grapevine: if you wash your hair, you might wash your new year luck away! I also wear red, as it’s an auspicious colour in the culture and for the occasion.” — Deborah on her LNY superstitions.
Deborah’s Lunar New Year Picks
- Red sweater: “[It’s] always a good reason to choose a red sweater to add to the closet that can be worn at LNY and other occasions, like Christmas. [I’ve] already got mine.” (Editor’s Pick: Lilysilk Ultrafine Merino Wool Crewneck at Hudson’s Bay)
- Gold bracelet: “When you receive lucky red pockets from elders or give pockets to others, the attention is on the hand gesture of giving and receiving.” (Editor’s Pick: Paris Jewellers Cosmic Bracelet With Pearl In 10kt Yellow Gold)
- Red Hunter Boots (Available at Hudson’s Bay): “Some lucky red Hunter boots to do all the travelling, celebrating, home visits, and event set up, all while being protected from the rain.”
Sasha Mei, content creator, writer and co-founder of Yu + Mei
You could say fashion runs through content creator Sasha Mei (@sasha.mei)’s veins. With a mother who worked in fashion marketing at GUESS in Malaysia, it’s clear that style runs in the family. Over the past few years, Sasha has solidified herself as a purveyor of style, providing endless inspiration of chic and effortless minimalism.
Community and conversation are also important to Sasha, which led her to co-found a supper club called Yu + Mei. Yu + Mei brings individuals together for stylish, intimate gatherings, where food and conversation take center stage.
When it comes to celebrating Lunar New Year, Sasha enjoys her special tradition of having Peking duck or dim sum with friends and, of course, dressing up for the occasion.
“We don’t have many family traditions surrounding LNY – the half of my family that celebrates is in Malaysia, and we didn’t have any relatives in Canada. My mother never really reinforced strict traditions, probably because LNY during her childhood involved endless rounds at relatives’ homes and she found it exhausting. [However], two things were guaranteed on LNY growing up: special red envelopes from our parents and grandparents, and some sort of delicious meal. When I went to university, I started bringing my friends for Peking duck or dim sum on LNY and it became a new tradition – they don’t have to celebrate it, but I always think that the best part of any holiday is sharing food with people.”
“I always keep my red envelopes – I’m too scared to throw them out in fear that it will bring bad luck!” — Sasha on her LNY superstitions.
Sasha’s Lunar New Year Picks:
Hannah Sung, Canadian media veteran, award-winning journalist, co-founder Media Girlfriends
You may remember Hannah Sung gracing your television screen in the early 2000s as a MuchMusic VJ who hosted MuchNews and TheNewMusic. She was one of the few racialized women in media at the time, and for many, was one of the first examples of Asian representation in the Canadian media landscape. Her journalism career also includes roles at CBC Radio, TVO and Globe and Mail, where she produced Colour Code, a podcast about race in Canada.
These days, Hannah continues to create space for misrepresented voices in media through Media Girlfriends, an award-winning podcast production company led by journalists of colour which focuses on promoting greater inclusion of perspectives in Canadian media.
As a proud Korean Canadian, one special Lunar New Year tradition Hannah follows is getting dressed in a hanbok.
“It’s so much fun to do with my children because it’s the only day of the year that they get to put them on. They’re also growing so fast that their hanbok is always either too small or too loose, which is cute. We wear hanbok to bow to older generations. The kids watch my husband and I kneel down to the floor and bow to my parents and my kids bow to all of us,” she explains.
“My kids don’t speak much Korean but they’ve definitely perfected the Korean phrase for ‘Wishing you good luck in the New Year.’ They love this ritual of respect and they get money and well wishes in return. Then we eat ddeok guk (떡국), an absolute fave. It doesn’t feel like a new year until we have that meal.”
“I’m not superstitious, but I always do a quick Google of the Chinese zodiac to read what the year has in store for me, a snake. If I don’t like the predictions, I skip to the next one and just read until I find one that tells me I’m going to have a good year.” — Hannah on her LNY superstitions.
Hannah's Lunar New Year Picks:
Trevor Lui, chef, restauranter, author and co-creator of Highbell Group and Quell
Chef Trevor Lui is a known pillar in the Asian Canadian community, particularly in Toronto, where he’s based. The chef, restauranter and entrepreneur has a knack for bringing people together through culinary experiences—whether that be through his restaurant Bao Bird, food concept Fat Bao, management agency Quell, or hospitality business, The Highbell Group.
It should come as no surprise, then, that one of Chef Trevor’s favourite Lunar New Year traditions is the celebration of food with friends, family and community.
“Having a family banquet to both close and open the year (‘tuin leen’ and ‘hoi leen’) is always a wonderful time to have the family get together and eat great food. We also love the custom of exchanging turnip and sugar cakes (‘bak tong go’ and ‘leen go’),” says Chef Trevor.
This year, Chef Trevor is most looking forward to the continued emergence of the Asian community, one, he says, has begun to finally garner a voice beyond our own borders.
“Modern day successes buoyed by prominent figures in our community and growing allies are helping to tell stories of our generations of history of struggle, racism and success (particularly in the role we played in building North America),” he explains.
Some of these successes include what Chef Trevor calls a “new renaissance” of Asian chefs in New York City. “[These chefs] were classically trained and have now gone back to cooking the food they grew up with ‘their way’ and are now being recognized for it. I’d love to see that in our communities here in Toronto. With that, we need to take this time to help shine a light on the talent we have and find ways to support and elevate their names and establishments.”
“I’m still stuck on the superstition of not showering or washing our hair on New Year’s Day to ensure we don’t ‘wash away’ our year’s health and prosperity. So get that shower in at 11:59 NYE!” — Chef Trevor on his LNY superstitions.
Chef Trevor's Lunar New Year Picks:
“Support LNY-themed products that support community: where major retailers use LNY as a way to capitalize on culturally-important events, select those that do so authentically and intentionally to support our communities.”
Celebrate Lunar New Year at Kingsway
Ring in the Year of the Dragon at Kingsway’s Lunar New Year Festival! On February 3rd from 11 am to 5 pm, watch live performances, participate in workshops, and enjoy a Lion Parade.
Match the Occasion
Lunar New Year wouldn’t be complete without “lucky money” in red envelopes known as Hónɡ bāo in China, Li xi in Vietnam and Sae bae don in Korea. These envelopes are typically given out by elders and married couples to children and single people of the younger generation. This year, consider gifting one of our gift cards in your red envelope so your loved ones can shop their favourite stores at Kingsway. Or try sending an e-gift card with a personalized video message wishing your loved one luck and prosperity for the year ahead.
Plus, don’t forget to take advantage of our Lunar New Year gift card promotion. From January 31st – February 14th, purchase a Kingsway gift card and receive a bonus gift card in celebration of Lunar New Year. Spend $200-$499 and get a $10 bonus gift card. Spend $500-$999 and get a $25 bonus gift card. Spend $1000 and more, get a $50 bonus gift card.
No matter how you celebrate, we hope this Lunar New Year brings lots of luck and prosperity!