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New Westminster neighbourhood aims to make Lunar New Year magical in 2021

Dozens of homes support neighbour’s appeal for holiday decor

A Sapperton neighbourhood is coming together in celebration of the Lunar New Year.

Having spent time in recent months enjoying Christmas and Halloween displays in her neighbourhood, Sapperton resident Elaine Su wondered if some of her neighbours would be willing to put a Lunar New Year decoration on their doors.

“This year has been the first year my son has really understood everything. He is really excited about seeing all the Christmas decorations and all the Halloween decorations,” she said. “As much as I try and make his cultural identity as important as all of the other festivals, it occurred to me for the first time that it would only go so far because we are the only ones celebrating it.”

Many families in China put up red hangings for Lunar New Year, usually paper signs with the character for ‘fortune’ or short phrases wishing people good luck and Happy New Year, Su explained.

“As a Chinese-Canadian family, Lunar New Year is a really special time for us,” Su wrote in a note to her neighbours. “We’re trying to raise our kids to be as excited about their cultural celebrations as they are about Halloween and Christmas and everything else we celebrate. That feeling of shared excitement, the sense of community celebrating together is a big part of what makes holidays and festivals so magical. We felt it here during Halloween and Christmas, and I always felt it growing up in Asia during the Lunar New Year.”

Su, who is mom to two-and-a-half-year-old Ellis and three-month-old Margo, distributed the note to neighbours living in a two-block radius around her Sapperton home.

“It would be a dream come true if I could take Ellis for a walk on our streets and be able to point out all the Lunar New Year decorations,” she wrote. “I would love for him to feel like he is not alone in his celebrating and that others are excited about his culture too.”

Su’s appeal struck a chord with her neighbours, with more than 50 homes agreeing to decorate their doors for Lunar New Year – about one-third of those she contacted.

“It’s really lovely. It was really touching. It’s a really lovely community building. There’s a lot of people who texted me that I never knew, I hadn’t met before,” she told the Record. “It was really touching to see that many people jump on board a crazy idea.”

Culturally sensitive

For neighbours who were willing to put something on their door for Lunar New Year, Su offered to “come running to you with red decor” and provide it for free. Aside from a few Asian families in the neighbourhood who put up Lunar New Year decorations, she said very few decorations have been displayed in past years.

“I think a lot of people are looking for permission, for a way in, and I think that’s a really nice thing,” she said. “I think people are more sensitive about being culturally appropriate and celebrating in a culturally appropriate and meaningful way. Something like this gives people a chance to try and celebrate in an appropriate and really celebratory kind of way.”

Su thinks it would be great to have a lot of celebrations, but she said they have to be accompanied by education. She noted, for example, that some people may not even know which way the characters face, what they mean or which ones are appropriate.

“There is a lot of information on Google. There’s a lot out there,” she said. “Chinatown is a great resource. There’s a lot of stuff around Chinatown that will help educate people. Stores in Chinatown will give people a pretty good education as well.”

Su is touched that so many of her neighbours took her up on her offer to celebrate Lunar New Year – and looks forward to taking her kids around the neighbourhood and looking at all the decorations.

“Given the opportunity, people are really excited to be able to take part,” she said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘We never celebrate it, but we would love to.’ People like doing things for toddlers.”

This year, Chinese New Year falls on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.

Su, who “goes all out” with Lunar New Year decorating at her house, said it would be “really wonderful” if neighbours celebrated Lunar New Year in future years. And she’s also offered to help her neighbours celebrate their special holidays.

“And if you ever need an ally to celebrate your family’s heritage or culture or unique wonderfulness, let me know,” she wrote. “I’m your gal!”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus