Lunar New Year

How Lunar New Year Became Overly Commercialized and What it Means for Asian Culture

The commercialization of Lunar New Year raises questions within the Asian diaspora about the co-opting and whitewashing of ethnic traditions

Westminster, CA - February 10: Shoppers view mannequins dressed in the áo dài, the traditional Vietnamese dress outfit, at the Asian Garden Mall in preparation for the Lunar New Year in Little Saigon, Westminster Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. For those who celebrate Lunar New Year, which starts Friday, Feb. 12, COVID has forced them to avoid touching cash and stuff traditional red envelopes normally filled with "lucky" money instead with checks, Lotto tickets, gift cards and the like. It will be the Year of the Ox. People flocked to Little Saigon to purchase holiday wares, traditional Vietnamese outfits, baked goods or flowers set up at store entrances or along the sidewalk.
Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In recent decades, a new pattern has emerged in the luxury retail world: In late December, many of the world's most valuable brands will unveil exclusive lines of merchandise covered in Chinese cultural symbols, one of a dozen animal zodiac signs, the color red or all of the above.

Marketing for this Lunar New Year, which falls on Friday, is no different.

Nike, for instance, remixed its high-top sneakers with graphics of popping firecrackers and artisanal Chinese knots. Apple offered limited-edition AirPods Pros with ox emojis stamped on the cases. The Swiss boutique Vacheron Constantin, meanwhile, dropped $130,000 watches with high-relief engravings of the animal.

Compared to those from past holiday seasons, the Year of the Ox capsule collections haven't drawn as much mockery or as many boycotts from Asian consumers. But the commercialization of Lunar New Year still raises long-standing questions within the Asian diaspora about the co-opting and whitewashing of ethnic traditions — and whether mainstream recognition can bring about meaningful social change.

For more on this story, go to NBC News.

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