Restaurants open for Lunar New Year but celebrations still mainly online

Lunar New Year once again has had to be limited due to COVID-19

Entrance to Chinatown during Lunar New Year
People walking and cars driving by the gates to Chinatown on Dundas Street West on Feb. 6. (JAMIE CASEMORE/TORONTO OBSERVER) 

In 2021 there was no in-person dining for the Lunar New Year, forcing restaurants to improvise their celebrations. In-person dining is back this year, but other celebrations are still online.

The Lunar New Year begins on the first new moon of the first lunar month. This year the new moon fell on Feb. 1 and will end on Feb. 15, the full moon. Each Lunar New Year also indicates the cycling of the Chinese zodiac, with this year being the Year of the Tiger.

‘Many returning customers’

Ontario restaurants resumed in-person dining Jan. 31. People were able to enjoy Lunar New Year with friends and family at restaurants, but many other events had to be cut back.

“People were talking about celebration events that they have experienced in previous years, but due to the pandemic most people are sensible enough to save the in-person events for another year,” said Cleman Fung, manager of Hong Shing Restaurant, in an email.

Lantern in Chinatown for the 2021 Lunar New Year
An example of decorations set up in Chinatown for the 2021 Lunar New Year. (JAMIE CASEMORE / TORONTO OBSERVER)

Last year, Hong Shing and other restaurants, like Momofuku, began offering Lunar New Year meal kits for at-home dining, compensating for the lockdown. While restrictions have been lifted since then, the meal kits returned this year for in-person as well.

“There were many returning customers from last year and many new customers as well,” Fung said. “Many have already pre-ordered the set menu as their dine-in experience.”

Eating is an important part of the Lunar New Year, with different foods like dumplings or fish symbolizing wealth and fortune or representing the beginning and end of a year.

‘Missing that in-person connection’

“For the last two years we have not been able to do many in-person activities,” said Michael Lin, event organizer for LunarFest, an annual festival which aims to include the various cultures throughout the GTA in their Lunar New Year celebrations. “For this year as well we had to do a last-minute pull of our in-person activities, except for the outdoor Lunar Lantern of Indigenous Lights installation.”

They invited a lot of different cultures and communities to celebrate the Lunar New Year with them through performances, arts and crafts, exhibitions, and different workshops, Lin said.

According to Lin, many of LunarFest’s events, like their wildlife presentation and their craft workshops, were meant to be in-person but had to be pivoted online.

Lin, while excited about this year’s LunarFest, looks forward to in-person festivities.

“We’re all missing that in-person connection, the smiles, the laughter, those human connections that you don’t necessarily get through a screen,” Lin said.

Chinatown is employing a hybrid model, with an in-person lion dance on Feb. 5, as well as an online video containing many of the other Lunar New Year traditions. They also have an outdoor lantern installation, which began on Jan. 28 and continues to the end of February.

About this article

Posted: Feb 4 2022 2:08 pm
Filed under: COVID-19 News