Ellis Su and his mother Elaine look at a Lunar New Year decoration on their front door in New Westminster, B.C., on Thursday. The celebration with origins in Asia falls on Feb. 12 this year. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Lunar New Year is a time for food and family, but like most celebrations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday looks different this year. Despite the challenges, a mother in New Westminster, B.C., is hoping to keep the magic alive for her two-year-old son.

Elaine Su saw how much joy her son, Ellis, got out of seeing Christmas and Halloween decorations, so she thought the Lunar New Year could also be a bright spot in a dark time. 

The celebration falls on Feb. 12 this year, at the first new moon of the lunar calendar. It's a major holiday in China, Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

"It just occurred to me suddenly that even though we make Lunar New Year a really big deal in our home, it's going to seem a little strange to him if there's not a whole bunch of stuff in our neighborhood," Su said.

Red is considered a lucky colour during the festivities and is seen in decorations, envelopes for giving money gifts and new clothing. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

So Su distributed a letter to about 150 residents asking them to consider decking out their houses in red lanterns, Chinese characters or representations of the Year of the Ox, as 2021 is known according to the Chinese zodiac.

She offered to buy the decorations if the neighbours agreed to it, and the response she got was overwhelming. Nearly 70 homes agreed to decorate, Su said, calling the gesture moving.

"I think decorations in general are festive, and they're kind of a physical manifestation of a community celebrating together, so it's an outward show of unity," she said. "We're all looking forward to this shared experience. So when you see that reflected all around you, you realize that your celebration isn't yours alone."

Elaine Su asked her neighbours to decorate their homes, too, and is happy so many responded. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A neighbourhood celebration

Wishing for good luck and prosperity in the year ahead is a big part of the annual celebration. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Clare Hardjowasito lives two doors from Su. The suggestion of decorating the house was something that spurred more learning for her family.

"My dad is actually half Chinese, so I'm technically a quarter," she said. "We did celebrate a little bit when we were younger, but we kind of haven't in the past few years. So it was kind of a way to re-spark the tradition. And it was interesting to learn more about the culture."

Chris Hanford is also a neighbour and was happy to put out the decorations. 

"She wanted her children to sort of see that the neighborhood was also supportive of this and engaged in the new year, as it's a very involved neighborhood when it comes to the Christmas season and the lights around that."

Su said she'd like to see the decorations become more commonplace outside her neighbourhood as well, but she encourages people to do some research first.

"Don't buy wedding decorations, which I've seen before," she laughed. "The thought and the care is there. And it just needs to be accompanied with just some research and some education information."