Gung Hei Fat Choi!

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With New Year’s Eve celebrations a few weeks behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to another culture’s winter celebration: the Chinese New Year. The New Year in China, (also called “Lunar New Year”) does not occur on the same calendar day each year – at least not in the traditional Western sense. The first day of the New Year coincides with the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, which means it can begin anywhere from late January to mid-February, depending on the year.

Each lunar year is tied to the Chinese Zodiac, which rotates through twelve different animals: this Monday January 23rd 2012, we will be ushering in the Year of the Dragon. The Dragon is the only mythical animal in the Chinese Zodiac, and is revered as a powerful symbol. The Year of the Dragon is predicted to be an ambitious and daring one.

Chinese New Year celebrations aren’t limited to Mainland China. Anywhere you find a significant Chinese population, you’ll find Lunar New Year festivals. Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand all have large celebrations, and outside of Asia, cities like San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver boast popular parades and festivities.

Have you ever been part of the celebrations? They leave a lasting impression! They continue for a full 15 days and are made up of colourful, boisterous and well-loved traditions. My favourite part of the Chinese New Year are the Lion Dancers, with their bright and ornate costumes, strident drumbeats and athletic performers. In Vancouver, decorative red lanterns hang everywhere and we all hope for the January rains to hold off so residents can line the downtown parade route, which winds through the city’s traditional Chinatown.

Rituals to attract good luck and banish bad are played out in every Chinese home. At gatherings, families pass around small tokens, like oranges, which are believed to bring prosperity. They also give money to children in small, red envelopes. (Red is considered a lucky colour and is seen everywhere at this time of year.) Right before the New Year arrives, families do a thorough house clean, to sweep out any bad luck that accumulated the year before. Then they get to put up their feet and relax, because it is considered bad luck to clean during the New Year celebrations, lest any good luck be swept away.

While most of us probably aren’t traveling to China this month, seeking out Lunar New Year celebrations in your city is a great way to be a tourist at home. Take part in the revels, try some food you haven’t tried before and enjoy learning something new about a culture other than your own.

Gung Hei Fat Choi!
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