A virtual celebration of Lunar New Year is a poor substitute for Alex and Grace Kung of South Pasadena.
The holiday, which began Feb. 12 this year and can last 15 days or more, is a time for families to get together and uphold traditions. COVID-19 has kept the Kung family apart — texting and relying on the computer to wish each other a Happy New Year.
For the Kungs, and in many American families, the holiday is celebrated for different amounts of time in different countries; in China — until this year — it was a time when workers in the city would go back to their villages to visit. The lunar holiday sometimes stretches a month.
“We had a big call with the cousins and we texted, but we miss the
in-person part and the traditions,” said Alex Kung, who is the finance director of the city of La Cañada Flintridge. “We say ‘we’ll make it up next year.’”
Grace Kung’s family lives mostly in Orange County, where she was raised.
“We haven’t been able to see anyone,” she said. “It has been a struggle.”
The Kungs are members of the South Pasadena Chinese-American Club, which will observe the holiday with an online celebration of the Year of the Ox on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 2-4 p.m. There will be dance performances, special speaker Andrew Chang, and — for those who signed up on time — a free meal from Golden China Restaurant if people attend the entire Zoom session.
The Kungs miss attending the in-person events, but Alex Kung pointed out that a great part of the holiday is seeing relatives and passing along traditions that they had learned.
“We have children — 13, 12 and 11 — and it has been challenging culturally,” Alex Kung said. “They were born and raised here and they can forget customs. So we talk about it — the Chinese restaurants where you get your own special dining room, the traditional foods and the red envelope in which children are traditionally given money by their elders.
“We try to pass along the memories of that from grandparents to the kids,” he added.
You could almost hear the longing in his voice as Alex Kung went down the menu for a traditional holiday meal — noodles, fish, fried rice, dumplings and then a whole variety of dishes, including chicken and lobster. The meal concludes with something sweet, like oranges. Noodles are important because they symbolize long life.
“There is no place on Zoom for private conversation” online, Alex Kung said. “We can’t [have extended family together] this year, so you feel a little left out.”
Grace Kung did the best she could to make this year’s holiday meal.
“We’ve had to make modifications this year,” she said. “We had Japanese noodles. We had fried dumplings and then we just made substitutes.”
Grace Kung is quite the volunteer — serving with the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, as the South Pasadena Middle School PTA president and as the treasurer of the South Pasadena PTA Council.
“It’s always been easier to just go out,” Alex Kung continued. “It is really about seeing everyone. We do go to each other’s homes and everyone brings a dish.”
Both Kungs also miss the camaraderie of attending Chinese-American Club events.
“Hopefully by next year, everyone will be vaccinated and we will be able to celebrate,” Alex Kung said.
Grace Kung pointed out there is one member of the Kung family who might be glad that he will remain unseen. During the pandemic, their older boy hasn’t cut his hair. Both parents mentioned that it is now almost as long as his sisters’.
Oh, what Grandma would think if she saw him in person, Grace Kung wondered.