A New Year, an old soup, and a family tradition

In Chilliwack, Lunar New Year celebrations are limited but since moving to the community from Korea 10 years ago, Euna Go has continued one tradition very important to her and thankfully she doesn't have to travel far to make it happen.

By Joti Grewal | February 1, 2022 |5:00 am

When Euna Go first moved to the Fraser Valley, she would travel nearly 85km from Chilliwack to Coquitlam to shop at a Korean market. It was the closest one where she could find all the ingredients needed for tteokguk, a traditional rice cake soup enjoyed during Lunar New Year.

Lunar New Year is observed across many Asian countries, including China, South Korea, and Vietnam. Today, more than a billion people across the world are ushering in the year of the tiger. And today, Go and her family will enjoy a bowl, or a few, of rice cake soup. It’s one of many traditions Go recalls taking part in with her family in South Korea, and the one she has kept since moving to Chilliwack a decade ago.

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Lunar New Year Traditions

“In Korea, the lunar calendar New Year is actually huge, one of the biggest national holidays,” Go said. “It’s a funny thing in Korea, when it’s New Year you’re actually getting older.”

Go was speaking about a tradition to consider a baby at birth as one year old, taking into account the time it spent in the womb. A person is said to age one year at each Lunar New Year. Laughing, Go said that it’s sometimes a challenge to try and remember her mom’s birthday because the lunar calendar revolves around the moon’s cycles and changes year to year.

Other Lunar New Year traditions include feasting with family, wearing Korean dress and the gifting of money.

Lunar New Year traditions include feasting, gifting money, and wearing Korean dress like young Leia Hana Rempel is here.
Lunar New Year traditions include feasting, gifting money, and wearing Korean dress like Leia Hana Rempel did here several years ago. 📸: Submitted

“In Korea, just before celebrating New Year, the bank is the busiest place because everyone is trying to get new money for the New Year,” Go said.

It’s tradition for the younger members of the family to greet the older ones and wish them luck in the new year. The well wishes are returned by the elders and also accompanied with cash, just not necessarily in a red envelope.

Red is often associated with Lunar New Year, but the day is celebrated by an array of cultures that don’t all necessarily follow the same traditions. Many new year traditions in South Korea, Go explained, have been influenced by China. But unlike China, where red is considered a colour of good fortune, in Korea, there is no one colour associated with Lunar New Year.

The 12 animal zodiac cycle is also influenced by the world’s most populous country, and Go said elders can be superstitious about them, adding that they will encourage marriage if the year’s animal is believed to be good luck for a union. 2022 is the year of the tiger. According to the South China Morning Post “the tiger zodiac sign is a symbol of strength and bravery.”

Celebrating in the Fraser Valley

Langley and Abbotsford each have a large Korean community: there are more than 3,000 speakers in Langley and more than 1,000 in Abbotsford, according to the 2016 census. The community is smaller in Chilliwack, and Lunar New Year celebrations are limited, Go said. But although she hasn’t seen Korean influences grow very much during her 10 years, one major improvement is access to Asian groceries.

“I used to have to go to Coquitlam but there is a Korean market around here as well… but even Superstore, or like a big grocery store, you can get some of the stuff from there easily, I noticed that.”

Tteokguk is a traditional Korean rice cake soup enjoyed during Lunar New Year
Tteokguk is a traditional Korean rice cake soup enjoyed during Lunar New Year. 📸: Submitted

COVID has curtailed many celebrations, but Go doesn’t recall many of them happening in Chilliwack anyway.

A search of the Chilliwack Progress archives finds the earliest mention of the Lunar New Year in the online database was in 1892. “Tomorrow being the beginning of the Chinese New Year, great preparations have been made,” the brief begins by saying. A search in more recent years finds the holiday is more commonly recognized locally at school events, restaurants and the library.

Being in Canada, Go doesn’t put too much pressure on herself to practice the traditions with her daughter, but she still makes an effort to maintain many of them, particularly the one most important to her.

“She likes rice soup, so that’s good,” she said with a laugh.

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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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