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Mike Lee, chair of the C3 Korean Canadian Society.Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press

As Lunar New Year begins on Tuesday, Mike Lee is expecting the usual profusion of red envelopes – typically used to give pocket money in Chinese tradition – containing greetings from politicians. In years past, he’s also watched politicians join the colourful parades that snake through Chinatowns in Canada’s biggest cities.

But for Mr. Lee, chair of the C3 Korean Canadian Society, these gestures don’t mean quite the same thing to him. In Korean culture, pocket money received on Seollal – Korean New Year – is usually put in an embroidered pouch called bokjumeoni.

“I think some politicians have multiple languages on the red envelope, that’s a start. But I’m not really a huge fan of getting a red envelope,” Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Lee’s experience reflects how Lunar New Year in Canada tends to focus on Chinese culture, even though non-Chinese Asian-Canadians also celebrate the event with their own sets of traditions.

For those who are unfamiliar with Lunar New Year, “Chinese New Year” might ring a bell. Lunar New Year is celebrated by those who follow the lunisolar calendar, including countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia and Indonesia, as well as diaspora communities all over the world. Similarly, Tibet, Thailand, India and other South and Southeast Asian cultures celebrate new year’s based on local lunisolar calendars.

In Canada, Chinatowns and businesses are decked out in festive red decorations including lanterns and scrolls, and companies send out greeting cards to clients and employees alike. Up until last year, Canada Post sold Lunar New Year stamps portraying the 12 Chinese-zodiac animals.

More recently, the Vancouver Canucks collaborated with artist Trevor Lai to design a special edition Lunar New Year jersey in the hopes of spreading awareness about inclusivity and anti-Asian racism.

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Vancouver Canucks' Quinn Hughes wears a special edition Lunar New Year jersey designed by local artist Trevor Lai during the pre-game skate before an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Vancouver, on Jan. 25.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

All these visible celebrations of Lunar New Year cater heavily to Chinese traditions. According to Christina Lee, the manager of operations & special projects of the Hua Foundation, it is necessary to recognize the importance of the holiday to diverse Asian diaspora communities and push back on the “monolithic, Chinese-centric example of what Lunar New Year is about.”

“Whether it’s within cultures or across cultures, there’s a huge variety of ways that we celebrate Lunar New Year, [it] doesn’t make any one of them wrong or right,” Ms. Lee said.

To raise awareness of the diversity in Lunar New Year celebrations, the Hua Foundation is partnering with Vancity for an Instagram takeover on Feb. 1 to post educational content about the topic – despite difficulties to find a single common motif amongst all communities that celebrate the holiday.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) held its first multilingual Lunar New Year story time last week, featuring songs and rhymes in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese, along with stories about the Lunar New Year celebrations around the world.

For Mr. Lee, such efforts make him more optimistic about the future of Lunar New Year celebrations in Canada.

“I’ve seen a big shift in maybe the last five to 10 years. It used to be called Chinese New Year,” Mr. Lee said, “But now it’s called Lunar New Year more and more. So I know that people are trying to be more inclusive.”

Celebrating the new year in Canada often involves striving to follow authentic practices from back home. That is the case for most in the Vietnamese diaspora community, said Que-Tran Hoang, the president and co-founder of the Vietnamese Professionals Association of BC – especially when it comes to food.

Similar to Chinese New Year celebrations where rice cakes known as Nian Gao (Nin4 Gou1 in Cantonese) are consumed to ensure good fortune and prosperity in the new year, Tết celebrations feature two types of sticky rice cakes Bánh Tét (cylindrical) and Bánh Chưng (square-shaped).

Getting these sticky rice cakes could be difficult for those who don’t cook, but Ms. Hoang noticed that it has become less challenging nowadays with more new immigrants from Vietnam and the ease of importing ingredients from Southeast Asia.

As Lunar New Year becomes more visibly diverse, the celebration is still rooted in one common goal.

“We’re essentially celebrating the same thing,” Mr. Lee said. “Different cultures and ethnicities do different things. But at the end, it’s all about people coming together, sharing a vision for hope and prosperity and all the good things that come [in] the new year.”

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