British Columbia

Lunar New Year festivities go online to welcome the Year of the Ox

With pandemic public health orders still banning gatherings, many Lunar New Year celebrations are virtual this year, as people welcome the Year of the Ox.

With pandemic public health orders still banning gatherings, many Lunar New Year celebrations are virtual

Offerings to Buddha on the eve of Lunar New Year at Ling Yen Mountain Temple in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday. This year, due to the pandemic, the public won't be allowed inside the temple, instead, festivities will be shown on live streams and offerings made by Buddhist masters on behalf of benefactors. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Last year's Lunar New Year celebrations were among the last big public crowd-gathering events to take place before the COVID-19 pandemic struck B.C., so as folks welcome the Year of the Ox in 2021, major changes are being made to avoid gatherings and enjoy festivities online.

Michael Tan, president of the Chau Luen Athletic Club, usually has a packed schedule this time of year, as his group puts on dozens of lion dance performances.

They're energetic and exciting physical displays, often performed by people like Tan who also practice kung fu.

"The lion dance is not just a performance, but it's also a ceremonial blessing to bring in the new year," he said, adding that in a regular year, his group would do between 30 and 50 performances over several days.

Michael Tan, president of the Chau Luen Athletic Club, says his group was initially resigned to skipping Lunar New Year events and performances this year, but interest started building and they began to plan a virtual event just a week ago. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But this year, Tan and a team of volunteers are putting most of their energy into a last-minute effort to bring the show online with a combination of recorded and live features people can watch safely at home on Saturday morning.

"It's an entirely virtual event held online for the community. It has all the trappings that you would normally see during Lunar New Year celebrations, including lion dance, of course, kung fu demonstrations, singing and dance," said Tan.

He said this year they're adding a dumpling eating competition to the regular traditions.

Lion dance performances have been recorded for a virtual Lunar New Year event organized by the Hua Foundation, Chau Luen Athletic Club, and Chinatown Today. (Michael Tan)

"I'm very proud of what we've been able to put together in a very short amount of time," said Tan.

At the Ling Yen Mountain Temple in Richmond, the gates have been closed for an entire year, keeping the public out. But services have continued inside, and the temple — which barely had a website before the pandemic — has been doing regular live streams.

Lunar New Year celebrations, including the bell ringing ceremony on Thursday night, are no exception. 

"Most people come here to pray for the good year ahead, so for the good luck and good fortune. Usually we have more than 3,000 people come here to pray," said Master Shui Fong of New Year's Eve.

Buddhist nuns, or masters as they're also known, prepare offerings at the Ling Yen Mountain Temple in Richmond before the bell ringing ceremony on Thursday, Lunar New Year's Eve. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A team of volunteers have helped the temple's masters — who don't typically use technology like computers — manage the video equipment and online presence.

The masters had to do the work volunteers typically undertake to prepare offerings to Buddha, and during the ceremony, they also have to make the offers on behalf of benefactors watching the live stream from home.

It's a lot more work for the masters, and it's far from the experience Fong is used to, but she sees a positive side to the move online as well.

"I think the live stream, or virtual event, can also help us to promote Buddhism," she said.

Master Shui Fong, who doesn't use technology like computers, has had to learn a bit this year, as she manages a team of volunteers who run the Ling Yen Mountain Temple website and live streams. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

For Tan, the crash course in preparing a live stream event to replace the popular Chinatown performances and festivities has also left him with a taste of how the annual tradition may have been permanently changed by the pandemic.

"I hope that we come back and do, of course, in-person events, but I don't see this going away entirely," he said.


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