As Lunar New Year celebrations kick off across many Asian cultures on 12 February this year, Ling Deng, a solicitor at Thorntons Law LLP, reflects on what the Chinese New Year means to her, with its rituals, symbolism and message of hope for the coming year, after a tough 12 months.

This is the second Chinese New Year that is being celebrated during the pandemic.

This time, I am joining millions of Chinese people who are not able to gather with their families. I will miss my mum’s Chinese New Year dinner and will have to study the recipe books to master and cook a minimum of six dishes carefully chosen for their symbolic meanings for the coming year, such as prosperity, good fortune and good health.

It is also a year since increased reports of hate crimes were recorded in the UK against Chinese and South East Asians, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sadly, this is happening in a number of countries around the world. I am fortunate enough to not have experienced overt hate crime against me. However, I have seen a fellow solicitor, who sat next to me in court, distancing himself from me around the time of the first reports of cases in China. Thankfully, this was the worst and the only time I have experienced prejudice in the profession.

Amid the awful news of hate crimes, there are many people who have supported and continue to support and defend those who are victims of hate crimes. The re-launched Letter to Haters campaign by the Scottish Government, in partnership with Police Scotland, was a welcome reminder to those perpetrators that their actions will not be condoned.

2020 was a difficult and testing year for all of us. However, as we know, when things seem to hit rock bottom, it can only, eventually, get better. The essence of Chinese New Year is togetherness and looking to the coming new year with hope that it will be better than the last one.

Many South East Asian countries, including China, South Korea and Vietnam, use the lunar calendar and celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Chinese New Year marks the end of the coldest days and the coming of Spring.  It is also called the Spring Festival in China. It is celebrated for 14 days until the Lantern Festival, with the first seven days being a public holiday in China.

This year, Chinese New Year starts on 12 February and goes on until 26 February. Families gather on Chinese New Year’s eve for feasting and celebration. It is also the time to visit family, friends and for the honouring of the family ancestors. For many of those who work or live in a different part of the country, it is usually the only time they get to return home to see their family.

The festivities start with a deep clean of one's home, to sweep away evil spirits and the bad luck of the previous year, and make room for good luck in the coming year. As Chinese New Year approaches, everyone will decorate their homes with red coloured items, such as Spring couplets, Chinese knots and other ornaments. On Chinese New Year’s eve, firecrackers are used to chase the evil spirits away. In recent years, some cities have banned their use for health and safety reasons, and instead put on firework displays. It has also become a modern tradition to watch the Spring Gala with Chinese New Year dinner to count down to midnight.

Each year is marked by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac and they repeat in a 12-year cycle. This year is the year of the Ox. 

Symbolism and tradition are very important in Chinese culture. Whether you believe in superstition or not, the symbolic message of the chosen dishes and the togetherness of one’s family is one of positivity and optimism.

Hope is what we need in these trying times.

The hope of reuniting with family and friends will keep us going through the trying times. The dream of new experiences in the coming year will help us to achieve the previously unachievable. To be able to find joy and happiness amid the pandemic will help to keep us healthy. To be able to maintain and carry on with tradition will ensure we continue to have hope for the future.

I look forward to the coming year with hope and the wish that the Ox of 2021 will take us out of the pandemic.