People of Chinese heritage around the world are currently celebrating the Lunar New Year – a 15-day long festival that marks the start of a new year in the Chinese calendar.
Yesterday (12 February) was the first day of Chinese New Year (or today if you’re in the US!), where the festivities begin.
Recognising the importance of celebrating and commemorating different cultures around the world (and to appeal to the lucrative China market), LEGO created the Chinese Traditional Festival sub-theme in 2019, with minifigure-scale sets based on some of the core Chinese New year celebrations.
To date, there have been seven sets released so far, eight if you count the Duplo Happy Childhood Moments set
- 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner (2019)
- 80102 Dragon Dance (2019)
- 80103 Dragon Boat Race (2019)
- 80104 Lion Dance (2020)
- 80105 Chinese Temple Fair (2020)
- 80106 Story of Nian (2021)
- 80107 Spring Lantern Festival (2021)
As someone who grew up celebrating Chinese New Year, these sets have a special place in my heart. LEGO have done an incredible job acknowledging these festivities, investing plenty of love and attention into the designs, storylines and overall cultural accuracy of these sets.
Coming from a Danish company that also happens to be one of the biggest toy brands in the world, these sets are not only important to recognise this cultural holiday that is so important to those of Chinese heritage, but also a great tool to educate and build bridges between Western cultures who may not be as familiar with the rich cultural heritage from East Asia.
As a dad, the power of storytelling through play has been so powerful, and I’ve been able to experience it first-hand this year, now that my daughter is so much more aware of her heritage, and the celebrations that accompany it – that and being a massive LEGO and Duplo fan herself.
To commemorate Lunar New Year 2021, I’d love to compile a short guide to the significance of each set, and showcase some cool Easter Eggs and references.
80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner (2019)
Read my review of 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner for more on the set. This set, along with 80102 Dragon Dance were regional exclusives an available only within Asia, and the Asia Pacific region.
80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner is the set that started it all, commemorating one of the most important celebrations of Chinese New Year – the reunion dinner that occurs the day before the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year is a big celebration, and family is one of the core pillars of Chinese culture. The reunion dinner is a big family affair, before the festivities truly kick off, where families gather, usually at the homes of paternal grandparents to “reunite” and being apart for extended periods.
The Chinese diaspora is vast, and it’s very common for sons and daughters to leave their family homes in search of wealth, job opportunities, starting new businesses and prosperity after coming of age.
Chinese New Year also sparks the biggest annual human migration event in the world, where billions of people make the move to reunite with their families.
Covid-19 and the advent of closed domestic and international borders has made this annual migration extremely challenging, and I feel it myself on a personal level, having not seen my parents, and grandmother for over a year now.
Chinese New Year has been relatively muted this year, with reunion and family time spent virtually through Zoom, Teams and Google Meets instead of in-person.
Who knows when things will return back to normal, and looking through these photos of 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner has made me feel rather poignant, reminiscing about the before times.
In 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner, we are introduced to this large family, consisting of grandparents, parents and a set of children who will soon become recurring characters throughout the Chinese Traditional Festival theme.
Chinese culture places a heavy emphasis on paying respects to the elderly, and grandparents/great-grandparents are held in the highest regard, hence why the reunion dinner often takes place in their homes – a mark of respect from their kids and grandkids to travel long distances back home.
Food is another important element, and I remember being so happy to see all these printed food tiles introduced in the set.
We have everything, from (Top To Bottom, Left Row to Right): rice, Chinese New Year Cookies (?), black sesame dumplings, fried chicken, pot sticker dumplings, crab, abalone/mushrooms, soup, fried fish, prawns, bok choy, spring rolls and lastly, a pair of chopsticks and soup spoon!
80102 Dragon Dance
2019 also introduced 80102 Dragon Dance, which was a fantastic kinetic model that also integrated a “Year of the Pig” minifigure into the set, establishing a precedent of Zodiac-animal minifigure being present in each year’s release.
The Dragon Dance is a traditional performance, typically conducted outdoors where a troupe of performers simulate movements of a Chinese dragon with the use of poles.
The performers rhythmically move the dragon using poles, and combined with loud music (commonly drums and cymbals), they synchronise in mesmerising fashion.
Part of the performance includes the lead, holding a dragon pearl which the dragon chases. It’s believed that performing the dragon dance during Lunar New Year drives evil spirits away, and ushers in good luck, prosperity and blessings for the community.
80103 Dragon Boat Race
80103 Dragon Boat Race isn’t technically connected to Lunar New Year celebrations as the Dragon Boat Festival typically occurs around May or June, and was released as a follow-up to 80101 and 80102 months later.
This festival has a lot more variants throughout the world, with different cultures observing it differently, and isn’t as big a deal as Lunar New Year.
Dragons are a big influence in Chinese mythology, and there are some scholars who believe that the Dragon Boat Festival was a culmination of dragon worship, and the harvest of winter wheat, as an offering to dragon deities.
A big part of the Dragon Boat Festival is the making and consumption of Zongzi, a delicious traditional Chinese rice dish made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves.
Most importantly, 80103 Dragon Boat Race introduced us to this male and female minifigure. Nothing is suggested as they seem to be regular spectators cheering the different teams… but keep an eye out for them as they will show up again soon.
Also a fun bit of trivia, LEGO copped a ton of flak for the regional exclusivity of 80101 and 80102, and subsequently stopped the practice of regional exclusive sets right after, which meant that 80103 Dragon Boat Race was available globally, a first for the Chinese Traditional Festival sets.
80104 Lion Dance
Read my review of 80104 Lion Dance for more on the set.
To usher in 2020 and the Year of the Rat, LEGO introduced two more sets, with my favourite being 80104 Lion Dance which depicts a Lion Dance performance.
Lion Dances are perhaps one of the most popular and well-known Chinese New Year celebrations. They’re loud, with clanging cymbals and drums, and performers dressed up as Chinese Lions.
The performances are a huge spectacle of sound and acrobatic feats on raised platforms – they’re really impressive and you may have seen Lion Dance performances in Chinatown.
These dances are not exclusive to the Lunar New Year, and can be performed all year round – usually to mark an auspicious event such as weddings, the opening of a new business, or any similar celebrations.
Typically, two Lions “battle” each other, outdoing one another in acrobatic feats and high-flying moves – where the victor receives the “prize” which is usually a head of cabbage.
Upon conclusion of the dance, a scroll bearing an auspicious greeting and message is usually unfurled, directed at the spectators and onlookers.
To commemorate the Year of the Rat in 2020, a Zodiac Rat minifigure was also included in the set!
80105 Chinese New Year Temple Fair
2020 also gave us another cracker of a set – 80105 Chinese New Year Temple Fair. Visiting temples is also a regular occurrence, especially for religious families who want to pray for good fortune for the rest of the year, or pay respects to their ancestors.
80105 gave us an entire temple complex, complete with all types of stands and stalls selling all sorts of merchandise, food and stuffed animals.
80105 also included the family from 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner, which confirms that this set is meant to be an extension of 2019’s Chinese Traditional Festival sets. I really enjoy the interconnectivity, and also the connection in between sets – it’s very common for families to visit temples together, usually from the 2nd or 3rd day of Chinese New Year onwards.
A really fun nod to modern Chinese culture is this minifigure here, with a banana illustration on his shirt. A “banana” is a playful (and sometimes snide) nickname for Chinese people who can’t speak or understand Chinese. Bananas are yellow on the outside and white on the inside, hence the nickname!
80106 Story of Nian
Read my review of 80106 Story of Nian for more on the set.
For 2021, LEGO have ventured into the mythological roots of Chinese New Year with the Story of Nian. It opens up the theme by delving into the past, where a village is being tormented by a menacing Nian monster.
To fend off the creature, the villagers band together to use a combination of firecrackers, the colour red and fire to scare off the Nian creature.
Many Chinese New Year traditions like wearing red, being boisterous and loud, lighting up lanterns and setting off fireworks/firecrackers are directly tied the Nian story fable, which is captured beautifully by this set.
2021 is also the Year of the Ox, and this set also includes a Zodiac Ox minifigure! That’s 3 so far, and 9 more to collect the entire cycle!
80107 Spring Lantern Festival
Read my review of 80107 Spring Lantern Festival for more on the set.
Hands down one of the best sets released so far in 2021, and I think the crown jewel (so far) of the Chinese Traditional Festival theme is 80107 Spring Lantern Festival.
The Lantern Festival (in my local Hokkien dialect is called Chap Goh Mei, which literally means 15th night) falls on the 15th and final day of Chinese New Year and is a massive celebration to conclude the Lunar New Year festivities.
As the name suggests, lanterns are an integral part of the Lantern Festival, with homes, temples and public areas typically awash with bright red lanterns in a tradition that dates back to the Song dynasty.
One tradition not captured in this set is the practice of writing poems, or wishes on lanterns and sending them up in the air.
If you’ve been following so far, you’re likely starting to pick up the fact that food and Chinese culture are utterly inseparable, and on the Lantern Festival, it’s common practice to eat Tangyuan – a sweet desert that consists of round, glutinous balls in a syrupy broth.
The round shape of the Tangyuan symbolises family togetherness (its name is also a homophone for “unity”, so the consumption of these with your family is considered to bring good fortune and harmony to your family.
Depending on your culture, the Lantern Festival is also significant for finding love between signals. In my native culture, there’s a tradition where singles write their numbers or well wishes on mandarin oranges before throwing them into rivers, or the sea to wish for finding a new partner in the new year.
Remember the flag-waving individuals from the Dragon Boat Race? They also make an appearance in this set, and it looks like they’re dating, from their cute matching 2021 hoodies!
Also, special shoutout for the inclusion of Bubble Tea, a drink popular with the Asian diaspora!
We also see the return of the young family (sorry I left out the boy from this shot) from 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner, and 80105 Chinese New Year Temple Fair!
Shame the grandparents didn’t show up in this set, but I love how the Spring Lantern Festival acts as a convergence point for minifigures from prior LEGO Chinese New Year sets.
Chinese Zodiac Animals
Last but not least is LEGO’s cycle of cute Chinese Zodiac animals, which has been a long-running promotional theme, going as far back as 2015 with the Year of the Sheep
The Chinese Zodiac contains 12 animals, and cycles annually, so if you’re unaware of your Zodic animal, it’s a fun little activity to look up your birth year to discover your animal! I’m a snake! 🐍
This has been a long-running promotion, predating the minifigure sets, but I love how it’s another way LEGO has used its plastic bricks to commemorate a Chinese tradition.
I think there’s plenty more Chinese traditions and history that LEGO could mine for inspiration for future sets.
The next set, in particular could be a really important one as it’ll have the set number 80108 – the number 8 is considered a lucky number (as it’s also the word for prosperity) hence why the theme begins with an 8, so I feel like LEGO will have something special in the works.
I’d love to see a Chinese Restaurant, or a historic Chinese temple or village which would be fun, and LEGO can also veer into the mythology again by taking on the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Mooncake Festival) which has both rich mythology behind it, and is also a major calendar event.
Maybe a Modular-type building inspired by Chinese architecture? That would be pretty cool.
Outside of minifigure-scale sets, I think a really interesting thing that LEGO could do is produce a Mahjong set. The size of the Mahjong tiles, and it picking up popularity in the West could make for a great way to teach and expose a massive audience to the Chinese game, but I guess they could hesitate due to the gambling connotations that Mahjong has.
What other Chinese festival-themed sets would you like LEGO to take on?
Thanks for reading, and I hope that you learned something new about Chinese culture and traditions from this article!
A massive thank you to LEGO for investing in creating these sets and for celebrating so many things from my culture that I’ve grown up with that I can now share with my daughter – there are just so many tiny details that they’ve gotten right, which points to how well they’ve researched and consulted with the right people to ensure that specific traditions or customs were captured just right.
To everyone celebrating Chinese New Year, wishing you Gong Xi Fa Cai, and I hope your year ahead is filled with joy, prosperity and good health!
To check out some of my other reviews of LEGO Chinese New Year sets, you can read them at:
- 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner
- 80103 Dragon Boat Race
- 80104 Lion Dance
- 80106 Story of Nian
- 80107 Spring Lantern Festival
- Year of the Ox
- Year of the Pig
- Year of the Dog
- Year of the Sheep