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Celebrating Lunar New Year 2021, the Year of the Ox under Covid pandemic

February 12, 2021 | 06:30

Despite the Covid pandemic that changed the way people traditionally celebrate Lunar New Year, it does not stop them from enjoying a new positive year ahead, and give best wishes to the loved ones.

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February 12 marks the start of the Year of the Metal Ox. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

The lunar new year begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends 15 days later on the first full moon of the lunar calendar.

This all-important holiday sets millions of people across the globe in motion each year as they travel home to usher in the new year with their loved ones.

Chinese folklore and legends tell of a terrifying beast called Nian (年) — a homonym for “year” in Chinese — that used to emerge from the ocean to devour crops, livestock and even people. After years of terror, a smart villager finally realized that the beast feared loud sounds as well as the color red.

So whenever the beast came in future years, the village would plaster their homes with red banners and lanterns, beat loud gongs and set off firecrackers to frighten it away. Eventually, their efforts paid off and Nian never returned.

The festival also has roots in agriculture, when farmers would appeal to the gods to bless the harvest later in the year. In many cultures, the first guest to enter a household represents the family’s luck for the coming year.

The Lunar New Year Festival has been observed for more than 3,500 years throughout Asia. Of Chinese origin, the festival is now observed in multiple countries, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Burma, Vietnam, Korea and Tibet, as well as regions worldwide that have strong Chinese influence or diaspora such as Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and throughout the United States, Europe and Oceania.

Several countries share the ideology behind the Chinese zodiac, which features twelve animals: The rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the chicken, the dog and the pig. Each animal represents one year, on a 12-year rotation, and people who are born in a specific year consider the return of their “animal year” to be particularly important in their lives.

Followers believe that for each of the Chinese zodiac signs, luck will depend largely on the positions of the Tai Sui -- the stars directly opposite Jupiter.

If your zodiac sign clashes with Tai Sui -- aka the Grand Duke of Jupiter -- in a particular year, you might find yourself dealing with disruptions.

The ox, in Chinese culture, is a hardworking zodiac sign. It usually signifies movements so, hopefully, the world will be less static than last year and get moving again in the second half of the year.

Thierry Chow, a Hong Kong-based feng shui master, to share her thoughts on what this means for the year ahead, CNN reported.

"The year of xin chou will have a strong emphasis on the yin metal element," she says. "The metal element represents anything sparkly from jewelry to the needle of a syringe. So we can see a bigger emphasis on industries related to metal in 2021.

"People born in the Year of the Ox will be facing their 'Ben Ming Nian' -- your own zodiac year," says Chow. "So there will be more changes and instability in general."

A few other zodiac signs will also be clashing with Tai Su in various ways, she adds. Dragons may deal with challenging friendships, while people born in the Horse and Dog years may deal with more gossip and unexpected matters.

People born in the Year of the Goat will be facing Tai Sui (Ying Tai Sui) this year, "meaning there must be a massive change ahead of them," says Chow.

That said, followers believe there are ways to improve your luck.

"Some people will resolve their clashes with Tai Sui by taking part in celebrations, like getting married or going to positive events more," says Chow.

But the feng shui master is quick to remind us that this is only a general overview of what the year means for each zodiac animal. In Chinese geomancy, each person's birthday chart is composed of a wide range of elements such as the day and time of their birth, meaning they may interact with the year a bit differently.

Lunar New Year preparations during Covid-19

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February 12, 2021, marks the beginning of the Year of the Ox. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

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 Covid-19.

In response, some tourist sites are 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.

To further lower the COVID-19 risk, the Chinese New Year street light-up will not be turned on for four days as part of additional measures to better space out crowds in Chinatown, said the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) on Friday (Feb 5).

In a press release, MSE said the light-up along South Bridge Road, New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street will not be turned on from Feb 5 to Feb 7, as well as on Feb 11. Visitors who would like to observe the festive light-up are encouraged to do so on weekdays or to visit the Chinatown Festivals website for a 360-degree virtual tour of the light-up, which begins on Friday.

Shopee Singapore’s head of marketing Tiger Wang noted that the online shopping portal observed a “six-time uplift” in demand for snacks and other essentials in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

Most people have gone online to buy food products and seasonal goods, he said, which include roasted suckling pigs, abalone and seafood.

“The acceleration of digitalisation since the pandemic has caused deep, irreversible shifts in consumer purchasing habits. The closure of offline events including the annual Chinese New Year Bazaar in Chinatown has also seen ​consumers turn to e-commerce to fulfill all their essential and personal needs - including Chinese New Year related products,” said Mr Wang.

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 the 26th day of the last lunar month -- February 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 February 9 this year.

Lunar New Year fortune banners are hung on the 29th day, February 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. But because of the pandemic, many cities have downsized or canceled their festivities.

The year usually wraps up with a big family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year's Eve, which falls on February 11 this year.

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. (Lunar New Year in 2021 lasts from February 12 to February 26.)

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).

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 are more likely to happen on this day so people will visit temples and avoid social interactions, according to CNN Edition.

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Lunar New Year decorations in Bangkok, Thailand. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

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.

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 highlight comes on the last day (February 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.

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