Thrifting for a festive Lunar New Year celebration

Since moving to the Central Valley, I haven’t observed Tet or Lunar New Year with vibrant community celebrations. Growing up with a huge extended Vietnamese family, I have to admit that I miss the New Year brouhaha — the sound of older relatives cackling as they gamble, the feel of thick red envelopes padded with $1 bills from inebriated uncles, and the smell of heavy incense permeating my grandparents’ small home by the East Foothills. 

Still, I celebrate New Year in my own quiet way. I pass out lucky envelopes to loved ones and slip into an ill-fitting ao dai that I bought on eBay. Vietnamese fare and mementos are a bit tricky to source around here, though. While I’d love for there to be some sort of Vietnamese strip mall like Lion Plaza, Asian ethnic stores are far and few in this area. But that’s not to say that we can’t find charming party favors and supplies for Tet festivities in the Central Valley — if there’s a will, there’s a way. And my will usually has me beelining to the thrift store. 

So far, I haven’t picked up anything from the thrift store for Tet this year (yet), but my mom’s keen thrift store excursions over the years have kept us well-stocked for Lunar New Year. If you’re looking to celebrate Lunar New Year with secondhand treasures, here are some items to keep your eye on at the thrift store. 

Thrifting secondhand items for Lunar New Year

Fake orchid plants

Purple faux moth orchid plant
Thrifted purple faux moth orchid plant.

As a plant lover, I know that it’s sacrilegious to even entertain the idea of fake plants…but sometimes you just can’t keep an orchid alive! (I know I can’t, especially with the valley’s arid, withering summers.) I always see beautiful faux moth orchids at the thrift store in yellow, white, and purple. You just need to dust them and maybe spray them down with disinfectant. While they make for beautiful statement pieces all on their own, you can adorn them with lucky envelopes or ornaments if you’re feeling extra festive.

Vases and planters

Elephant lotus planter
Elephant lotus planter. Please ignore how dusty it is…I was taking pictures of things around the house for reference. 

If you’re partial to live flowers, you can find plenty of high-quality vases at the thrift store to display pussy willow stems and yellow mums. For one of those ubiquitous lucky bamboo plants, seek out shallow trays and planters, like this elephant pot my mom sourced from the thrift store. For a peach blossom or kumquat tree, consider investing in a planter that’s 20 inches or bigger in diameter. (But it’s better if you plant these in the ground!) 

Bowls, plates, and baskets for altars

Flower plate
Look at this pretty plate!

For Tet and family remembrances, we have a little altar to offer food to deities and the dead. Thrift stores carry a range of bowls and plates for displaying (serving?) cooked meals and fruits. I always associate those offerings with a simple white bowl, but you can select ornate pieces if your style leans maximalist — for example, I enjoy this gold-trimmed floral plate. Tiered baskets can also be helpful if you want to arrange an assortment of fruits like apples, oranges, and lady-finger bananas. 

Red clothing

Red cotton turtleneck
I found this vintage Ralph Lauren turtleneck for only $4 at the thrift store. I love this shade of red, and it’s very auspicious for the New Year!

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s easy to find red home decor and clothes on display at the thrift store. Closely associated with fire, red is also a lucky color for Lunar New Year, signifying happiness and prosperity. That’s why people often wear red on Lunar New Year. 

Personally, I’ve been taking a liking to a bright and punchy vermillion kind of red over the past year. It suits my graying hair, and it makes me feel confident without the need to spend too much time on makeup. Just last month, I picked up this lovely red Ralph Lauren sweater at the thrift store for $4. The sole ao dai I own is black, but I think I’ll be wearing my lucky red sweater this year. (That said, I’ve even seen red qipaos and ao dais at the thrift store!)

Festive Lunar New Year animal decor

Bowl with yellow dragon motif
I didn’t end up buying this bowl, but I think the dragon illustration on it is so beautiful.

As it’s the Year of the Dragon, you can scout the thrift store for dragon decor. Not Toothless plushies, but rather statues and figurines or home decor with dragon motifs. I’ve even found dragon kitchenware, like this gorgeous plate from the thrift store. I’ve also been on the lookout for guardian lions or foo dogs, but haven’t had much luck yet. 

Whether or not you’re thrifting for Lunar New Year, I hope you have a fabulous, prosperous, healthy, safe, and beautiful Year of the Dragon with loved ones.