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A Look Into How The Pandemic Will Change Lunar New Year Celebrations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Lunar New Year begins later this week. Usually the holiday involves huge festivities with fireworks, dancing and family reunions. But as the pandemic continues, the celebration will look and feel different this new year. Wyoming Public Radio's Naina Rao reports.

NAINA RAO, BYLINE: The Lunar New Year is all about removing the old and welcoming the new for Ling Li, who is a master's student from China, studying at the University of Wyoming.

LING LI: When I were child, my parents always prepared me the new clothes on the New Year's Day. For the elders, people will give the children red pocket. You know, that is hong bao in Chinese.

RAO: Those red pockets or envelopes filled with money called lucky money. This tradition is about passing on blessings for the rest of the year.

LI: And also, on the New Year's Eve, everybody watching the TV show of the Spring Festival in China.

RAO: Because the Lunar New Year occurs during the academic year, for international students, it's often celebrated with their friends rather than families.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

RAO: That's a Facebook video of a previous year's celebration showing a line of University of Wyoming students rehearsing the traditional lion dance for the final performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

RAO: That celebration is usually hosted on campus by the Chinese Students Association. The group's former president, Zhe Chen, thinks it helps a lot.

ZHE CHEN: Because although I cannot reunite with my family, I can reunite with students and professors here. We can meet a lot of Chinese people here. We share the same feeling, so that makes us less homesick.

RAO: That homesickness was especially acute during the Trump administration.

CHEN: Since the China-U.S. relationship turns bad, it will be more difficult to get visa traveling back to the United States. And this pandemic just made things worse.

RAO: Chen says this past year has also been hard, in part, because Trump called the coronavirus the Chinese virus.

ANNA LIN: So yeah, those are, like, some of the new barriers we got to do.

RAO: Anna Lin is a first-generation Chinese American living in Detroit, Mich. She and her parents run a restaurant there. Because her parents are scared of the virus and growing anti-Chinese sentiment, it's Lin who now does all the tasks for the family's business that require going out, like buying ingredients and restaurant supplies.

LIN: Because I'm not that scared of people. Like, if you do something to me, like, I can call the cops. I can talk back to you, whereas it's harder for my parents 'cause English isn't their first language or, like, they're not really comfortable with it.

RAO: That's why the Lunar New Year is really special for the family - because it's a space where they can be themselves. It's also about putting bad times behind them. Anna says many people spent much of the Year of the Rat, 2020, in hiding.

LIN: Moving forward for 2021, I'm going to keep hopeful and really hope people get their vaccines. I'm hoping everybody gets their turn soon.

RAO: According to the lunar calendar, this coming year is the Year of the Ox. The Chinese zodiac describes the ox as strong, reliable and diligent. Former Chinese student association president Zhe Chen says those attributes make him hopeful for the coming year.

CHEN: Chinese New Year is an opportunity for me to think about my - like, my new year plan, what I want to achieve next year.

RAO: And hopefully make the Year of the Ox better than the one just ending.

For NPR News, I'm Naina Rao in Laramie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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