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Asians prep for more muted celebrations to greet the Year of the Ox

Tess Ma, of Roslyn Heights, talks about how

Tess Ma, of Roslyn Heights, talks about how she plans to celebrate the Lunar New Year under COVID-19 restrictions. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

In pre-pandemic times, Kevin Sun would be rushing around in Flushing this week to shop for fish, crab, oranges, apples, lanterns, empty red envelopes and plum blossoms in preparation of the Lunar New Year that arrives Friday.

This year though, Sun, of Great Neck, has ordered groceries online and is planning a scaled-back meal with his wife, their two young daughters and his in-laws. With no fresh materials to decorate, he figured he would go dig out the two red lanterns in the basement to place in the living room.

"Because we can’t gather and there are limited ways to celebrate, we are just trying to make the best out of it," Sun said in Mandarin.

The Lunar New Year is the holiday equivalent of Thanksgiving and Christmas combined for China. Other Asian countries, including Vietnam, Korea and Singapore, also celebrate it.

Like other major holidays in the past year, planned festivities celebrating the beginning of the Year of the Ox look different. Gone have been the dragon dances and other types of live performances or in-person activities. The wintry weather this week also took away some Long Islanders’ wish to host small gatherings outdoors.

But in the hearts of many, traditions must continue.

To Tess Ma, of Roslyn Heights, the ceremonial feel of the holiday simply cannot be lost.

Ma, who grew up in Guangzhou, China, recalled her excitement in anticipation of the Lunar New Year, known in China as Spring Festival, when she was a child. Along with the holiday came new clothes, money-filled red envelopes and feasts that filled her days with merriment.

"The Spring Festival means a lot to us," Ma said in Mandarin. "It’s a day to let the old stay in the past and let in a new beginning."

The holiday is also an occasion Ma makes a point to celebrate to help her two teenage sons learn Chinese traditions. It came from a realization Ma had one day 12 years ago when her older son came home from kindergarten. The then 5-year-old told his mother that he no longer wanted to be Chinese. Instead, he wanted to be a Jewish boy so he, too, could enjoy Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday in late November or December during which children receive gifts.

"He was too young to understand what roots meant," Ma said. "But I realized culture like the Lunar New Year is very important for them to know."

As far as tradition goes, Mylinh Song of Dix Hills felt similar sentiments.

"It’s our tradition," said Song, who is of Vietnamese descent. "When I was growing up, I got this amazing dual cultures. All my kids got is just one day and that’s one day I’m going to give to them no matter what the circumstances are."

Song said she will take her three daughters and their friends to Chinatown in Manhattan to enjoy a meal and take in whatever festivities are offered there.

"We are going to bundle up with lots of layers" of clothes and masks, Song said. "We are going to be there and take in the festivities of Chinatown as much as we can."

ANIMAL KINGDOM

• The year of the Ox begins Friday, Feb. 12.

• It follows the year of the Rat, which is the first animal in the Chinese zodiac.

• The 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

• In Vietnamese culture, the Cat replaces the Rabbit. The Myanmar zodiac has eight animals.

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