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A Lunar New Year postcard from Finland

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've mentioned, today marks the beginning of Lunar New Year. As we heard earlier, a celebration in Monterey Park, Calif., came under attack by a gunman. And in China, a COVID outbreak will likely add a layer of anxiety to this year's celebrations for many. But despite all that, it is important to remember the joy the holiday brings around the world, including in places not widely associated with the holiday.

ILONA TRAN: (Speaking Finnish).

MARTIN: That's Ilona Tran, wishing all of us a happy new year in her native Finnish.

TRAN: I was born in Finland, and my parents have been living here since the end of the Vietnam War, I believe. My mother is Vietnamese, whereas my father is half Chinese and half Vietnamese. And they've been here before I was born, so that technically makes my nationality Finnish. But I am fully Vietnamese.

MARTIN: As she said, Ilona, who is 26, was born and raised in Finland, where she's studying science. But she tries to adhere to what she knows about the Vietnamese traditions, although she's thousands of miles away from the New Year celebrations in Southeast Asia.

TRAN: So my mother is the one who thought of these traditions. I personally am not too familiar with them, but this is a specific, I say, rule that's been etched to me - etched into me since I was a young child.

MARTIN: While those celebrating are counting down the clock, the entire Tran family is usually about six hours ahead of the rest of those celebrating in the frigid Nordic north.

TRAN: We celebrate Lunar New Year in Vietnamese time zone so we can celebrate it with the rest of our family in Vietnam, since my grandparents live there with my other uncles and aunts. And the midnight is kind of important to us because that shows us that it's the new year and new beginnings and that sort of thing.

MARTIN: But before any partying or celebrations, there are certain traditional tasks that must take place.

TRAN: For Lunar New Year, I tend to prepare for the day by cleaning the house because it usually is told in Vietnamese culture that the bad luck can stay from the previous year. So that's why we have to tidy up the place.

MARTIN: A clean slate with a lunar transition from the year of the Tiger to the year of the Rabbit.

TRAN: And usually we're supposed to cook a traditional meal for the whole family to eat. But since I am alone this year, I'm just going to cook something for myself. And I'm spending this New Year alone because my parents are celebrating Lunar New Year in Vietnam at the moment with the rest of my extended family. But I'm also planning to follow my family's traditions and go buy groceries, which include salt and red shoes.

MARTIN: Ilona goes out and buys salt, which is supposed to help ward off the evils of yesteryear, and returns home wearing red to usher in happiness and luck for the family.

TRAN: Every new year after midnight strikes, I have to enter the home and say Happy New Year in Vietnamese, which is (speaking Vietnamese).

MARTIN: And we want to wish Ilona and all those celebrating around the world a happy and healthy new year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.