Lunar New Year is a major cultural event, and it’s likely that you have many employees who recognize the holiday! It’s a festive occasion in countries influenced by the lunisolar calendar. Lunar New Year always falls on the first new moon of the year, symbolizing the end of the winter and the beginning of spring.
Depending on where you reside and your local Asian communities, you might know Lunar New Year as Chinese New Year, Tết (Vietnamese New Year), Seollal (Korean New Year), and more! In general, Lunar New Year is a cultural celebration worldwide, thanks to widespread East Asian and Southeast Asian influences and diasporic communities.
In the Chinese zodiac, an animal reigns over an entire year—unlike how western astrological signs are only active for a few weeks out of a year. So, as you can imagine, the zodiac animal of the year makes a prominent feature on signs, scrolls, lanterns, red envelopes, and more. 2021 is the year of the ox! 🐂
On Lunar New Year, there are many traditions and customs practiced to usher in a prosperous and auspicious year, and there are many ways these activities can be done in the workplace!
Why celebrate Lunar New Year?
While many Western countries don’t recognize it as a weeklong public holiday, many people still observe the occasion in their own ways. It’s a fun opportunity to learn about your employees’ cultural traditions and backgrounds. As a Vietnamese-American person myself, I love bonding with my colleagues over the childhood traditions we share—and the traditions I haven’t heard about!
Of course, we can’t talk about celebrating a cultural holiday without mentioning the impact of inclusion. As HR professionals, it’s up to us to set the standard of how to eradicate discrimination and bias—conscious and unconscious—and, in the process, encourage the inclusion of all employees.
Recognizing and celebrating employees’ racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds can be effective in building psychological safety and employee engagement.
It’s also just a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to bond with your team! 🌚 🧨️ 🧧️ 😄
Festive ideas to celebrate Lunar New Year
1. Eat traditionally lucky food
This is easily my favorite tradition. 😏
Schedule a dedicated lunch for your team to celebrate! Here’s a list of foods traditionally eaten on Lunar New Year:
- 🥟Dumplings – Dumplings symbolize wealth and prosperity in the new year, because they resemble the Chinese ingots used during the Ming Dynasty as money. It’s said that the person who eats the most dumplings will amass the most wealth that year! 🤑
Aside from simply eating them, dumplings are also super-fun to make! If your workplace has a full kitchen set up, it’d be easy to form and cook your own dumplings together as a team.
Another great option is an in-person or virtual cooking class, and have a pro guide you through those pesky pleats as a team-building activity!
- 🍜 Noodles – Eat noodles for a long life! Slurping is encouraged.
- 🍊 Tangerines – In addition to being bright, festive, and healthy, the Chinese for tangerines is 橙 (chéng /chnng/), which is a homonym for the Chinese word for 'success' (成). One of the ways of writing tangerine (桔 jú /jyoo/) includes the Chinese character for luck (吉 jí /jee/). Many Chinese traditions and superstitions come from this kind of wordplay!
2. Do some spring cleaning and decorating
Lunar New Year is the perfect opportunity to do some spring cleaning. While there are some superstitions around cleaning on the day itself (you don’t want to sweep away all the good luck you’re accumulating!), you can still spend some time organizing for the year ahead.
Evaluate the flow of your workspace: does it make sense? Does it promote collaboration and focused work? If you're on a remote team, do your colleagues have the equipment they need to be successful? If not, this is an excellent time to evaluate what's working, and what's not.
3. Give out red envelopes
Quite possibly one of the most beloved Lunar New Year traditions, red envelopes stuffed with cash are exchanged in a flurry between family, friends, employees, and even casual acquaintances! 🧧️🧧️🧧️
Red is regarded as a tremendously lucky color in East Asia, representing happiness, success, and good fortune. By giving someone a red envelope, you’re granting them a blessing of happiness and prosperity in the coming year. You can find these red envelopes at any Asian supermarket and online.
This is the perfect time to spread some joy among your employees with a small reward for their hard work. While red envelopes are traditionally filled with cash, gift cards are another great option, and even digital sending of red envelopes is on the rise!
4. Learn calligraphy
Hanging up red scrolls with Chinese couplets is a common Lunar New Year practice, as a way of welcoming good fortune. Invite a calligraphy artist to guide your team through simple characters either in-person or online as a fun, art-based, team building activity.
5. Say blessings
Take a little language lesson and practice saying a traditional Lunar New Year greeting!
This is an excellent guide to different Lunar New Year sayings, including blessings for successful businesses and careers. 😉
6. Light lanterns and firecrackers
Most fireworks and firecrackers are lit on Lunar New Year's Eve, but it's traditional to light a firecracker the morning of Lunar New Year's Day to scare off bad luck. Start your business day with a bang! 🧨️
For a quieter celebration, red paper lanterns are sold in abundance at Asian supermarkets. They symbolize the hope for a bright future, and add a festive touch to your office! 🏮
7. Watch a traditional celebration
Lunar New Year is a festive occasion worldwide. Take a field trip to your local Chinatown or equivalent cultural enclave to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this celebration. Grab lunch, catch a traditional lion and dragon dance, listen to a folk music performance, and more! 🐲
8. Play games ️🀄️
Playing games and spending time together is a huge part of Lunar New Year celebrations, and we encourage you and your team to have some fun on this day! Learn how to play mahjong (or play online!) or play card games with your teammates. Whether you want to throw in the cash you got from your red envelope... well, that's up to you. 🤫
Everyone should be able to bring their full selves to work, and that includes that cultural backgrounds. Lunar New Year is a hugely significant occasion for millions across the globe, and chances are, you have an employee that celebrates it. Taking the time to learn more about your colleagues and their cultural backgrounds is a great way to build a sense of inclusion and, in turn, employee engagement.
For more ideas about employee engagement, check out this resource: