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Chinese New Year

January 20, 2012 by staff 

Chinese New YearChinese New Year, There are many ways to ring in the Year of the Dragon in Toronto. Some events kick off on Friday and the celebration continues for two weeks. If ever the world needed a dragon – the most powerful and auspicious Chinese zodiac sign – to distract from dire Mayan predictions, this is it. Come Sunday, millions of families worldwide will come together to feast and celebrate as the dragon breathes life into the new year.

It’s the Year of the Water Dragon – the only mystical creature in Chinese astrology, a creature that stirs excitement among Chinese zodiac followers for its strength, luck, intensity and vitality.

“The dragon is very important. It’s majestic, a sign of authority,” said Angela Chan, vice-president of Toronto’s Chinese Cultural Centre. “We hope that in the year of the dragon, the economy will pick up.”

Though often called Chinese New Year, the annual celebration (also called the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival) is celebrated by Vietnamese, Korean and other Asian populations worldwide. It’s tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar and falls on different days every year.

The marathon 15-day celebration is a time of renewal and well-wishing, of spending time with family, feasting and giving thanks.

Customs and traditions vary by location, but most families will gather on New Year’s Eve – this year on Sunday – to clean house, feast on dumplings and set off fireworks to usher in the New Moon.

Homes are often cleaned and decorated with blossoming flowers (they symbolize new life), tangerines and candy trays – all intended to bring good fortune and happiness in the year to come

“There’s a lot of preparation involved,” said Hong Kong-born Chan, who has continued to uphold New Year traditions since moving to Canada more than 20 years ago.

Then on Monday, New Year’s Day, elders will present the family’s young generation with red paper pockets (lai see in Cantonese) stuffed with lucky money.

Dr. David Chuenyan Lai, a now-retired University of Victoria geography and Asia-Pacific studies professor, remembers Chinese New Year as a child in Hong Kong. The young Lai would wake up first thing on New Year’s Day and kneel before his elders.

“Wishing you prosperity (Gung hay fat choy in Cantonese),” he would say, receiving lai see in return.

“It’s all about family,” said Lai, who still lives in Victoria.

Historically, Chinese New Year celebrations involve 15 days of honouring the household, family ancestors and the gods. It’s a food- and family-centric holiday, celebrated with traditional feasts, often involving whole fish, chicken and uncut noodles.

Celebrations traditionally end with a lantern festival, hand-painted lanterns often suspended from home windows or carried in procession beneath the full moon.

In China, the new year means millions of people will board planes and trains homeward bound to eat, relax and spend time with family. It’s one of the busiest travel times of the year, said Lai.

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