Celebrate Chinese New Year
Family, feasts, fireworks and festivities! We look at Lunar New Year traditions — and how you can get in on the action even if you aren’t in Asia.
Time to ring in the New Year… again! Also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year is the highlight of the holiday calendar throughout Asia and a time for some serious celebrations.
Whether you’re at home or abroad, the feasts, parades and colourful traditions provide ample excuse to indulge in some tradition. Here’s a look at what’s happening.
Celebrations in China
If you’re lucky enough to be touring the country during this busy season, it won’t be hard to take in some culture. Customs and events vary across the many regions of the country, but you’ll find a mix of long-held traditions and some modern upgrades as well.
Before the celebrations get started, it’s customary to clean house to clear away bad fortune from the previous year. However, once the new year starts, families aren’t allowed to clean for a few days, otherwise they risk “sweeping away” their fortune. Debts should be repaid before the new year, and it’s a time for forgiveness and letting go of grudges.
The “Spring Festival” certainly lives up to its name when it comes to décor. Homes are traditionally decorated with vases of flowers — whose blooms symbolize wealth and career status because blossoms come before the fruit. Speaking of which, you’ll find plenty of sweetness as well. Plates of oranges or tangerines also adorn homes to symbolize abundance, and a plate of candied fruit with a variety of items representing different kinds of good fortune like health or long life, is laid out for the celebrations. Wherever you go, you’ll see cut-outs and streamers with the year’s zodiac sign and good wishes for the new year.
This year — the Year of the Monkey — officially starts on Feb. 8. As with any new year, the celebrations get underway the night before. Think of it as Christmas and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one: it’s a time for family gatherings over sumptuous meals and staying up all night to see in the new year. It’s a chance for families to reunite and honour their ancestors. You won’t find turkey on the table, but fish, chicken, lo hon jai (a popular vegetarian dish) and uncut noodles (for long life) will likely be among the choices. Don’t turn your nose up at a raw fish salad — it will also bring you luck.
Like many countries, there’s a traditional food to enjoy at midnight as well. Plates heaped high with jiao zi (dumplings) grace every table. Some say it’s because they look like ancient money while others say they’re little packets of luck, but either way this tasty treat represents wealth and prosperity for the year ahead. When the clock strikes twelve, many families will pause to open the doors and windows to “let out” the past year.
Not surprisingly, fireworks displays at midnight often draw crowds. In the past, they were thought to scare away demons — but now people simply enjoy the pyrotechnics.
Ways you can celebrate closer to home
While we don’t get a national holiday to celebrate the occasion, there are plenty of ways to celebrate in Canada and the U.S. And no, you won’t have to miss work — many of the events take place on the weekend instead. What are some ways you can get involved?
– Attend a festival. Many areas offer a wide range of events for the whole family like traditional dance demonstrations, fireworks displays and banquets. There is a lot to see — like Vancouver’s annual Chinese New Year Parade.
– Check out your local museum or cultural centre. You never know where you’ll find themed events and educational fare.
– Help a good cause. Enjoy some culture and tasty morsels at a local fundraiser, like the Yee Hong Community Wellness Foundation’s Dragon Ball in Toronto.
– Dine out. Many ethnic restaurants get all dolled up for the occasion with special menu items, decorations and live entertainment like music and traditional dance troupes.
– Dine in. Whether it’s a potluck, dinner party or dinner for two, use the occasion to try some new recipes. There’s no shortage of choices on recipe websites, and don’t forget dumplings are the must-have food! (For more ideas, see Flavourful Chinese New Year fare
– Learn a new skill. Look for workshops and classes that teach traditional arts, like calligraphy, lantern making and cooking.
– Give a gift. During Chinese New Year, it’s a custom to give children gifts of money in red envelopes. The colour — not to mention the influx of cash — signals prosperity.
Where can you find out what’s going on? Unfortunately, many community-based events never make it to the events search engines. Instead, try: