Lunar New Year: East Meets West

Chinese communities around the world are preparing to celebrate the Year of the Pig in spectacular style. 

Bernard O’Riordan

The Chinese calendar rolls into a new year on February 5, bringing with it jubilation and raucous celebrations in Chinese communities around the world.

There’ll be fireworks and food, the banging of drums and the clashing of cymbals to welcome the Year of the Pig – an animal that represents wealth, with its big ears and plump face.

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, is the most important of all Chinese holidays. It lasts for 15 days until the first full moon on February 20, when decorative lanterns are hung to guide lost spirits home.

While celebrations are often the biggest and best in the heartlands of China, Hong Kong and Macau, Chinese communities around the world – from Sydney to Singapore and Dublin to San Francisco – will ring in the Lunar New Year in exhilarating style.

“Chinese New Year” is actually something of a misnomer because the event is also marked in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and beyond. It is said that one-sixth of the world’s population will be celebrating New Year’s Day on Tuesday February 5, rather than on January 1.

In every corner of the world there will be parades and performances, fireworks and food, but most of all, there will be family.

The festival is, for many, a reason to reconnect with family and loved ones and a time to share a traditional feast meant to bring prosperity and health in the year ahead.

It will also prompt the largest annual human migration on Earth as millions of migrant workers return home to their families in time for the traditional nianyefan, or New Year’s eve Reunion Dinner.

A staggering 2.9 billion trips are expected to be made over a 40 day period, leading up to China’s Spring Festival in early March.

Lunar New Year is the longest public holiday in China, with workers given seven to 12 days off and students having one month of winter vacation, making it an ideal time (and often the only time) for them to travel.

This year, a record seven million Chinese tourists are also expected to travel abroad to destinations like Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and the United States.

Colour Me Red 

From red lanterns to red envelopes, did you ever wonder why the colour red is so popular in Chinese culture, especially on the Chinese New Year?

Legend has it that it all began with the Nian, a ferocious beast that would terrorise villagers at Lunar New Year, eating crops, livestock and even children.

But villagers learned that this half bull with a lion head was afraid of three things: fire, noise and the colour red.

That’s why there’ll be thousands of red lanterns, strings of chillies and red paper decorating streets and businesses this Lunar New Year. Red is the colour of good fortune and joy and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

Red Packets
Red packets

The most popular way to celebrate the Chinese New Year is to hand out red envelopes or hongbao (pictured) that are decorated with lucky symbols or auspicious messages and stuffed with money.

Red packets are passed from old to young and from married couples to single friends and family members.

Traditionally, they are kept under the pillow and slept on for seven nights after Chinese New Year to bring good luck and fortune.

Food and Fortune

Certain foods and dishes are eaten during the Chinese New Year Festival for their symbolic meaning. A whole fish is considered a must: the Chinese word for surplus or profit sounds similar to the word for fish.

Classic steamed dumplings (jiaoz) are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve and are said to symbolise wealth because of their purse-like shape.

Spring rolls (chun juan) symbolise wealth because they resemble a gold bar, while Longevity Noodles (changshou mian) symbolise a long and happy life.

Longevity noodles
Longevity noodles

It’s important not to break the noodle while cooking, and they’re supposed to be eaten in one piece.

Desserts like glutinous rice balls are extremely important because they sweeten up any prospects for the year ahead. Fruits like oranges, tangerines, kumquats and pomelos   are meant to bring prosperity because of their golden colour and rounded shapes.

East Meets West

Hundreds of millions of people will celebrate Lunar New Year around the world. Here’s what’s planned in some of the world’s big cities.

New York

One of the highlights of visiting New York for me last year was witnessing the city’s spectacular Chinese New Year Parade as it wound its way down Mott and Canal Street.

Manhattan’s Chinatown – one of the oldest Chinese communities in the United States – was bursting with colour and noise, including the constant crack of party snaps (known as throw downs in Australia) hitting the bitumen and confetti flying through the cold February air.

New York, which has a Chinese population of around 700,000, one of the biggest outside Asia, has a tonne of events lined up again this year to celebrate Chinese New Year – including parties, parades and restaurant specials.

The Year of the Pig starts with a bang with the annual Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival at 11am on February 5 at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, not far from the Manhattan Bridge. But you have to get here early if you want to see anything – the park gets crammed with people hanging from the fences and trees.

The Chinese New Year Parade will be held on February 17, starting at 1pm, with the streets closed off throughout Chinatown and police out in force.

Chinatown will be overrun with colourful dragons, drums and dancers who perform a ritual outside (and inside) local restaurants to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity for the year ahead.

The parade starts at Mott and Canal Streets, continues onto East Broadway toward the Manhattan Bridge and curves up through Sara D. Roosevelt Park via Forsythe and Eldridge Streets toward Grand Street.

Many restaurants are still open, so after the parade try some of the delicious festive fare in one of the local dumpling houses. Remember, it’s dumplings for wealth and noodles for a long life.

There are other events throughout the city during the Spring Festival, including dozens of programs to celebrate Lunar New Year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It includes a colourful parade through the Museum’s Great Hall.

You can also celebrate Chinese dance and music, including the lion dance and a martial arts demonstration, at Brookfield Place, hosted in part by the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

Singapore

Singapore CNY

A 9.5m-tall lantern featuring several pigs and a fu dai, or fortune bag in Mandarin, has signalled the start of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore, while also raising a few eyebrows.

Placed at the junction of Eu Tong Sen Street, New Bridge Road and Upper Cross Street, the installation is one of many decorations across the city for the Year of the Pig. In other parts of the city there are flowers and lanterns shaped like coins to signify wealth.

On Lunar New Years Eve, February 4, a countdown party will be held in the city, featuring performances and festive songs, as well as fireworks.

Illuminated floats from the annual Chingay street parade will close the celebrations on February 17.

Sydney

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Sydney, with a Chinese population of more than 530,000, claims to stage the biggest Chinese New Year festival outside of China. Given the number of Australian residents who were born in China has more than doubled over the past 10 years, it’s little wonder Lunar New Year is a big affair.

From the lantern-lined Dixon Street in Chinatown to key landmarks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up in auspicious red, the city will be alive with colour and noise to welcome the Year of the Pig, with around 80 events planned across arts, culture, food and sport.

The Lunar New Year festivities kick off at Chatswood, a suburb with a large Chinese community north of the Harbour Bridge.

A three-week cultural festival kicks off on January 29 featuring a Golden Market – a traditional end-of-year food and fashion market – and a Lunar New Year Twilight Parade. Look out for the large inflatable golden pig at the Chatswood Interchange.

At Chinatown in Sydney’s CBD – the cultural heart of celebrations – festivities start on February 1, with a raucous lion dance from 6pm in Dixon Street. Take time to admire the stunning curtain of red, gold and pink lanterns suspended throughout Chinatown.

The highlight of this year’s festival will be the Lunar Lanterns Exhibition – a contemporary interpretation of the 12 animal signs of the Chinese Zodiac which will line the foreshore from the Sydney Opera House, around Circular Quay to the Overseas Passenger Terminal, on February 8 and 9.

This year four new lanterns created by Chinese-Australian and Australian artists will be unveiled. Of course, it wouldn’t be a party in Sydney without the usual fireworks over the harbour, and there’ll be plenty of them.

There’s also the annual Chinese Dragon Boat Races at Darling Harbour on February 9 and 10 – the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere involving more than 3,000 paddlers.

More than 1.3 million people took part in Sydney’s Chinese New Year Festival last year.

Melbourne

vicmarket1

Lunar New Year celebrations in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city, are centred around Chinatown in the CBD, but there are also events at Southbank, Docklands and Queen Victoria Market.

Chinatown in Little Bourke St – which runs from Spring St down to Swanston St – is the hub of celebrations with light installations, cultural performances, outdoor food stalls and acrobatic lion dances from 11am on February 2.

At 8pm that night, the city will officially recognise the start of Chinese New Year festivities with a ceremony at Queensbridge Square pedestrian plaza at Southbank.

Throughout the festival, Crown Melbourne will celebrate with its annual Hawker’s Bazaar, fireworks, food stalls, cultural performances, activities, fire dragons shows and a stunning Zodiac Spectacular display.

At the top of town, Queen Victoria Market will celebrate the Lunar New Year with traditional performances from local and international acts, including the Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne Lion Dance Team, and a free cooking demonstration.

The Dragon Boat Regatta at the Harbour Promenade, Docklands, takes place on February 16 and 17.

Auckland

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The highlight of Chinese New Year in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, is the annual Auckland Lantern Festival, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Running from February 14-17, the Lantern Festival brings a vibrant glow to the city as more than 800 brilliantly coloured lanterns light up the old trees and expansive lawns of the Domain, in central Auckland.

The city kickstarts celebrations a few weeks earlier on February 2 when it hosts the annual Chinese New Year Festival and Market Day at ASB Showgrounds.

There’ll be dragon dancers and more than 200 speciality stalls selling traditional & exotic Chinese hot delicacies, Chinese New Year foodstuffs, Chinese traditional arts & crafts & promoting advisory services

Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, will also hold its Chinese New Year Festival on February 9 and 10.

London

capture

A parade of floats and dancing lions in London’s Chinatown, martial arts demonstrations along Shaftesbury Avenue and stage performances, food stalls and fireworks in Trafalgar Square are all part of celebrations across the West End on February 10.

Leicester Square sees family-friendly entertainment in which kids can try calligraphy and dress in imperial costumes. Packed Chinatown restaurants roll out special banquet menus.

The Chinese New Year Parade in London kicks off with dragon and lion dances and more than 50 handcrafted floats at Charing Cross Road, before snaking its way through Shaftesbury Avenue into Chinatown.

At least 430,000 ethnic Chinese now live in the UK and as that population has grown, so have New Year festivities. This year there’ll be celebrations in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as other cities and towns

Dublin

Dublin
Mansion House goes red for Lunar New Year

Landmark buildings and sites across Dublin – including the much-loved Mansion House, the official residence of Dublin’s Lord Mayor – will turn red from February 1-5 to welcome Chinese New Year.

Others to glow red include Convention Centre Dublin, Guinness Storehouse and Pearse Lyons Distillery.

Organisers of Dublin’s Chinese New Year Festival, which will run from February 1 to 17, promise that this year’s celebrations will be the biggest and the best yet.

There will be more than 80 events across the city including a dumpling-making workshop at the Asia Market, calligraphy and Chinese flower arrangements and film screenings and lectures.

This year, Chinese New Year also coincides with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Ireland and China.

San Francisco

newyear.jpg

As the largest Chinatown outside Asia, and the oldest in the United States, San Francisco‘s Chinese community knows how to turn on a show during the buzz of Chinese New Year.

San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade has attracted throngs of people for more than a century. This year, it will wind its way through the city’s downtown on Saturday, February 23. Organisers expect more than 1.2 million people to turn out.

There will be floats, elaborate costumes, ferocious lions, exploding firecrackers, and of course the new Miss Chinatown USA will be crowned.

A crowd favourite is the spectacular 288′ Golden Dragon (“Gum Lung”). It takes a team of around 180 men and women from the martial arts group, White Crane, to carry the Golden Dragon through the streets of San Francisco.

The parade – one of the few illuminated night time parades remaining –  starts around 6 pm at Second and Market Streets and precedes west on Market, and then west to Geary Street to Union Square.

As a precursor to Lunar New Year festivities, the annual Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair will be held on February 2 and 3 at Grant Avenue, between Clay and Broadway.

It attracts a lot of people – usually around 40,000 – as people load up on fruit, candies and fresh flowers – symbols of abundance, happiness and good fortune.

Vancouver

Vancouver

Vancouver will celebrate the Year of the Pig with the 46th annual Chinese New Year Parade on February 10.

The parade includes around 70 entries and more than 3,000 performers from across Canada – including lion dancers, cultural dance troupes, marching bands, martial arts performers and more.

This year’s parade – organised by the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver – starts at 11am and is expected to attract up to 100,000 people.

The 1.3 km parade route starts at the Millennium Gate on Pender Street (between Shanghai Alley and Taylor Street), proceeds east along Pender Street, turns south onto Gore Street, west onto Keefer Street and then disperses on Keefer at Abbott. See the route map here.

There are many other Lunar New Year activities across the city, including LunarFest – a celebration of Asian arts and culture that began in 2009. It returns to the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza on February 9 and 10 from 11am.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Lunar New Year is one of the most important festivals for the Chinese, and in Hong Kong it’s also a massive 15-day party.

Everyone and everything is coloured red and gold (red and gold symbolise prosperity and good luck) and the streets are a cacophony of sound and noise as drums, gongs and firecrackers explode in every corner.

Many Chinese offer incense sticks at midnight to mark the turning of the new year, in the belief the offering will bring them wealth and good luck. Around 320 million red packets are also expected to be handed out.

On Lunar New Year’s Day, February 5, the streets of Hong Kong’s vibrant Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood will come alive with costumed dancers, fire-breathing dragons and luminous, neon-lit floats for the annual Chinese New Year Parade.

Thousands of people also gather here on the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, at the Victoria Harbour waterfront, to watch the city’s spectacular Chinese New Year fireworks the following night.

On February 6, the second day of the Spring Festival, Victoria Harbour will light up with a magnificent 25-minute fireworks display at 8pm, coinciding with the nightly Symphony of Lights laser show. Get there early though as the free public spaces are usually heaving with people.

Of course, it would be a sin to visit Hong Kong during Chinese New Year and not sample some of the holiday treats. Noodles are said to bring longevity and happiness, spring rolls and lucky dumplings bring wealth and glutinous rice cakes for success.

Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park also have special New Year events planned, while Hong Kong Post plans to issue a set of special zodiac stamps with gilding and silk decorations to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Beijing

Beijing CNY

Youngsters in China are often told how firecrackers are used to chase away Nian, a mythological beast who would come to harm people at New Year. But for the second year running, the crackers are likely to whimper out this year.

That’s because Beijing is one of more than 400 cities across China that has banned fireworks amid concerns about the danger they pose and the pollutants they emit.

Instead, children will have to make do with receiving red packets (envelopes filled with Chinese Yuan), while being entertained with lanterns and scrolls, decorations throughout the city and carnivals and temple fairs.

Ditan Temple Fair is one of the biggest and most popular temple fairs, featuring traditional snacks, handicrafts, performances, hundreds of stalls selling local snacks and antiques.

The entire first week of the New Year period is a very festive time with a lot of eating and drinking taking place.

Did You Know

The pig is the 12th of the zodiac animals so anyone born in 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007 or 2019 is considered a pig in Chinese culture.

On the bright side, pigs have a beautiful personality and are blessed with good fortune.

Kung Hei Fat Choy

(Happy New Year)

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