Firecrackers ward off evil spirits, signs of familiar Lunar New Year symbolism prevail

Lunar New Year celebrations in the Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian communities are underway. 

New Year's Day Friday is marked by family get-togethers, food and plenty of symbolism.

But traditional celebrations have shifted because of the pandemic.

The Chinese community usually celebrates this all-important holiday with large family gatherings and lots of food. But how people celebrate now is a bit different.
In Oakland's  Chinatown, firecrackers were being lit throughout the day to chase away the bad spirits and usher in the Year of the Ox. 

Long-standing traditions are observed, but with a different tone.
"A lot less spirited because of this coronavirus. It's not as crowded," says Angel Qin, whose family owns Kelly's Shop, which sells Chinese New Year decorations, plants and flowers. 

On Chinese New Year's Eve, normally the streets would be filled with people. Stores would be crowded.

Many families would gather to eat at a restaurant. This year, people are lining up to buy takeout.
"[We] cannot eat at the restaurant so we got to take it home and enjoy it with the family," says Franklin Wong of Oakland as he stood in line at Peony's Seafood Restaurant for take-out.
Even gatherings at home are downsized. People say they're hosting only a few family members. In years past, they would dine with about a dozen relatives.  
At Chuan Yu Restaurant, workers tell me Mongolian beef is a popular dish on this night for the year of the ox, a symbol of strength.

They say dishes such as boiled fish in chili oil and spicy chicken from the Sichuan province of China, known for its peppery flavors, are in high demand.

Staff says business has been brisk.
"[We've] more than doubled the business there usually is because today is Chinese New Year's Eve. I would presume tomorrow would be even more busy," says Sabrina Ho, assistant manager at Chuan Yu Restaurant.

Markets that sell roasted items such as duck also drew plenty of customers.

At New Hop Lung Market, owner Danny Hung showed a KTVU crew dried oysters which are symbols of all things good.

He also says produce such as grapefruits represent an important tradition, "Everybody coming home all together."    
People also shopped for flowers and plants. 

Last but not least, there are red envelopes people put money in to give to others.

Married folks hand them out to children and single people.

The sound of firecrackers will likely be heard through the weekend and beyond as Chinese and other Asian communities celebrate.