Lunar New Year is celebrated across cultures, including Vietnamese, Korean, Tibetan, and Mongolian, and is arguably the most important holiday for Chinese families like mine — think Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into one.

Festivities typically span roughly 15 days, beginning on the evening of the new moon and ending on the full moon — this year, the Lunar New Year begins on Feb. 1.

In Chinese culture, each year is represented by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, so if you see an increased representation of tigers in Chinese New Year decorations, it’s because this is the Year of the Tiger. Those who are born in past Years of the Tiger — 2010, 1998, 1986, and so on — traditionally wear something red year-round to ward off bad luck.

The Lunar New Year usually marks the reunion of more than a billion people with their loved ones. But as the coronavirus swept across the world, this annual migration ground to a halt. I remember hearing stories of canceled flights to China, reading WeChat messages from my family in Shanghai about ghostly empty streets, and receiving a text message from my partner’s mother asking if my family was impacted by COVID-19′s devastation.

Perhaps that’s why this year feels a bit differently than previous ones. Armed with vaccines and boosters, families like mine are making plans again, employing strategies we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, like isolating as much as possible during the days leading up to gatherings, getting PCR tests, and doing rapid testing the day of.

My anxiety, however, goes beyond the dangers of a potentially fatal virus: I’m nervous about my parents and my partner’s parents meeting for the first time.

Ever since I started dating my partner, his parents begged to meet mine — they wanted to meet the people who raised the woman their son loves and connect with my Chinese heritage. But for four years, my parents shook their heads at the idea. Chinese custom dictates it’s improper for parents to meet unless a marriage proposal is on the table.

But after he satisfactorily answered their pointed questions after Thanksgiving dinner last year, they finally caved. The original meeting date was Christmas, a holiday that both families celebrated and required nothing from me. But omicron foiled those plans, pushing the date back to Lunar New Year, a holiday that holds utmost importance to my immigrant Chinese parents and is unfamiliar to my partner’s white Midwestern ones.

Both language and cultural barriers are at play, and my mind runs wild with worst-case scenarios. What if my parents can’t understand the jokes my partner’s father makes over dinner? Or, worse, what if his parents don’t like the food my mom prepares — a cardinal sin.

“What should we bring?” his parents asked over the phone. I faltered. What should they bring? I would never expect them to whip up a traditional nian gao or bring a platter of drunken chicken.

“Bring some oranges,” I blurted out, both astonished and slightly proud of myself for thinking on the fly. Citrus represents luck, wealth, and prosperity, and their beautiful color is reminiscent of gold. A sure hit with my traditional parents.

“And don’t forget to wear red!” I added for good measure, notingit’s the luckiest color, traditionally worn during festivities. They thanked me and expressed once again how excited they were to meet my family. Lunar New Year was on.

Like with any new year celebration, the Lunar New Year marks the beginning of something, well, new. For myself, my partner, and our families, the Year of the Tiger could be the start of a new tradition, one where the extra leaf of the dining table is added to make room for two more.

As more people protect themselves from the virus, perhaps Lunar New Year celebrations can roar back to life. In the Philadelphia region, local organizations are cautiously offering in-person events to kickoff the Year of the Tiger through lion dance performances, cooking classes, special meals, and more. Here are just a few you can attend with your family and friends — just don’t forget your masks.

Lunar New Year events in Philly

Lunar New Year at Rail Park

Visit the Rail Park for an outdoor Lunar New Year celebration presented with the Asian Arts Initiative, the Philadelphia Suns, and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. The holiday activities will include a lion dance at 2:30 p.m. (Free, Feb. 5, 2-4 p.m., 1300 Noble St., therailpark.org)

Chinese New Year Banquet

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. hosts its annual Chinese New Year Banquet to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. Tickets for individuals are $150 and proof of full COVID-19 vaccination is required for all guests. ($150, Feb. 25, 5-8:30 p.m., 1001 Vine St., chinatown-pcdc.org)

Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration at Parkway Central Library

The W.E. Cultural Exchange Institute and the Free Library of Philadelphia welcome the Year of the Tiger with an afternoon-long Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration. The event includes martial arts, folk music, Chinese opera, and dances inspired by different historical dynasties. The gallery also hosts a Chinese water ink calligraphy demonstration. Free admission but registration is encouraged via Eventbrite. (Free, Feb. 25, noon-4 p.m., 1901 Vine St., eventbrite.com)

Lunar New Year dining specials in Philly

Tai Lake Seafood Restaurant

Tai Lake has three Lunar New Year dinner packages for 10 people priced at $368, $438, and $618, available for dine-in and takeout. Once you choose your package, you can nosh on items like dry scallop with vegetables, crabmeat fried rice, and sweet bean soup, among other traditional dishes. ($368-$618 for 10 people, 134 N. 10th St., tailakeseafoodrest.com)

Dim Sum Garden

Dim Sum Garden has take-home frozen dumplings for your Lunar New Year festivities. Bring home 20 of these ancient Chinese money-shaped treats in a number of combinations for $25 per package. Packages vary but come with your choice of frozen pork soup dumplings, chicken dumplings, chives and pork dumplings, vegetable dumplings, and more. ($25 per dumpling package, 1020 Race St., dimsumgardenphilly.com)

SouthGate

You can visit the Lombard Street restaurant SouthGate for the traditional Korean New Year dish Dduk Guk, a rice cake soup with pork and beef dumplings. The special is available through Feb. 6. (through Feb. 6, 1801 Lombard St., southgatephilly.com)

Saté Kampar

Saté Kampar may not have a storefront currently, but chef Ange Branca is offering the restaurant’s Yee Sang, or prosperity salad, for delivery or pickup at Kampar Kitchen at Bok this Lunar New Year. The platter is $25 and feeds two to four people. The salad includes ingredients that signify good health and fortune in the new year, including carrots (good fortune), greens (youthful wishes), and pomelo (luck). ($25, Feb. 1-15, pickup at 1901 S. 9th St., instagram.com)

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