Yesterday afternoon while I was busy in the kitchen, my husband, Dennis, came downstairs with a cheerful smile. He asked me quietly: "Honey, is it the Lunar New Year tomorrow? When I think about the traditional dishes you will place on our dining table made me so happy already." I smiled and replied: "It's not, babe. Lunar New Year is next Friday." “Oh, really? I thought it will be tomorrow." Then he went upstairs. Not for long, he stepped back down and asked me, "What are you going to make?" "Can you cook Braised Pork Belly? I’d love it." "Okay, that dish is a traditional dish for our Lunar New Year,” I responded. Looking at him, a foreigner, but with a very Asian soul, made me so happy. I told him that as our tradition, I will cook Braised Pork Belly, stuffed bitter melons with ground pork and shrimps, stir-fried noodles, egg rolls, pork char siu. I will buy traditional sticky rice cakes, candies, cookies, and red envelopes. I will go to the bank to withdraw some new two-dollar bills this weekend. I will decorate our house with marigold flowers and golden apricots. I’ll hang red envelopes stuffed with brand-new two-dollar bills. I will hang beautiful sayings and many lucky charms on the golden apricots. He was very happy to hear me mentioned the upcoming plans. I then held his hand and asked: "Babe, can I invite some family members over to our house?" He was a bit sad and answered slowly: “No, babe. We are still in a pandemic. It's better to be safe than sorry.”
I have a passion for nearly twenty years of inviting relatives and friends over to enjoy my home-cook meals. At first, I was not as tired as in recent years after every big party. Nevertheless, sometimes I still invited a lot of people over to fill up my heart with joy. I accepted the pain afterward and rubbed medicated oil all over my hands and legs due to being exhausted. Sadly, nearly a year, I have not had the opportunity to feel that tired. I crave their loud voices, the laughter of our young children, and the sound of their little feet running and jumping all over our house. I crave the images of our whole family and relatives sitting next to each other and enjoying the food I made with all my heart.
After dinner was over, I suggested to Dennis that I could deliver some of the food that I will make to his family. He was glad to hear my suggestion.
Not only in the United States but also in Vietnam and millions of Vietname across the five continents will not welcome Lunar New Year as before. However, we are very fortunate to overcome this pandemic for almost a year now. Currently, in the U.S. there are more than 40 million vaccines have been injected into people's arms. They expect that by the summer of this year the entire population in America will be able to get vaccines for Covid-19. Other countries will be followed America. Just thinking about the day, almost everyone will get the vaccine, I am overwhelmed with joy. Our lives will be back to normal. Children will be reunited with their parents. Grandchildren will be able to visit their grandparents again. Friends can gather together. Our house will be full of laughter on birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In retrospect, when I first came to America in 1986, I felt sad and homesick for over fifteen years during the Lunar New Year. In those years, I never stayed up late to welcome New Year's Eve because for me there was no New Year to welcome. I was so depressed until the Year of the Sheep, 2003. I decided to change to live happier and more meaningful. I began to attend many year-end and new-year parties at work and other associations. Even so, I dared to take part in the Ms. Beauty contests. I became the pioneer to introduce the Lunar New Year to my Los Angeles Department of Social Service office with nearly 500 people. I shared with my colleagues about the traditions of the Lunar New Year, which are sticky rice cakes, candies, and red envelopes. Because I was so busy all over those days, I did not have time to miss the Lunar New Year in my hometown anymore, rather my hands opened and joyfully welcomed it. Perhaps, my love for the old New Year is like an unfinished love story. Time has healed all my broken heart. I was happy again to accept what I have in my life.
In recent years, I have a new tradition of celebrating Lunar New Year at home with lots of traditional food and giving out the red lucky envelopes. I introduced my husband as well as his family about our Vietnamese customs on the special holiday. They loved it.
My happiness is very ordinary and simple. I don’t care for living in a big house, drive a brand-new car, or become a millionaire. I just wish I could be healthy to take care of my family for many more years to come. I pray that this pandemic will soon be over. Spending time with my family and friends during the big holidays is the most joyful moments in my life.
Lunar New Year, The Year of The Ox is knocking on our door in just one week. I wish the best for you and your family. May it be the year of hope, prosperity, and happiness.
Crystal H. Vo
February 5, 2021