The 2016 lunar calendar comes to a close this month as we usher out the Year of the Monkey in Chinese astrology. This brings with it the Lunar or Spring Festival—more commonly known as the Chinese New Year
“The New Year is a very important holiday for Chinese and Chinese-Canadian people,” says prominent local businesswoman Sophia Sun. “In some ways it’s like the way many Canadians think of Thanksgiving. A time for hope and family.”
There are many interesting legends and stories that explain the origin of the festival. A monster named Nian who was scared away by an old man’s trick, a demon named Sui who attacked in your sleep that was repelled by coins wrapped in red paper and a peach tree protected by two ghost catching guards named Shentu and Yulei are the most widely known. Most who celebrate, however are looking to honour a year of hard work by relaxing with family and to hope for a prosperous coming year.
“What I love most about the Chinese New Year celebration is the gathering of families and sharing of traditions together,” says Karen Wong, a founding artist with the Chinese Cultural Arts Association. “There’s a special warmth in seeing younger generations take the time and heart out to bring smiles to the faces of their elders.”
On Saturday, Jan. 28, the Year of the Monkey becomes the Year of The Rooster, bringing with it many ways to celebrate.
“Before the New Year, you have to do everything new,” says Sun with a laugh. “New clothes, new dishes for the meal, even new hair from the salon.”
This tradition, mixed with superstition, connects to the idea of renewal, hope and luck, Some celebrants even avoid cleaning for a short period of time after the new year to avoid washing away any good luck they may have acquired.
“But of course, most of the holiday is about family and friends,” Sun adds. “Parents on the first day, brothers and sisters on the second day and then good friends after that.”
Another longstanding tradition of the festival is the gift of money wrapped in a red envelope. This naturally extends from the aforementioned story of the sleep demon but it has become much larger. The colour red is now associated with all things safe and hopeful during the festival. In recent years, the festival has led to the rise of red underwear being sold and worn throughout the celebrations.
“The festival is a chance to witness some pretty spectacular Chinese dances that make the Chinese culture come alive,” adds Karen Wong, founding artist of Canadian Collective Arts Association. “We enjoy putting on performances to share our culture with audiences whom may not be as familiar, including at the Toronto Raptors’ CNY night halftime show, Yee Hong Dragon Ball, OMNI TV’s CNY special and various mall celebrations.”
In Markham, there are many ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Markham Civic Centre will again host an annual show and celebration organized by the Federation of Chinese Canadians in Markham. Details can be found at the FCCM website. There will also be a family celebration at Milliken Mills Public Library in advance of the New Year on the afternoon of Jan. 22 from 1 to 3pm.
For those seeking sit down celebrations, the Hakka Youth Association presents its annual dinner featuring a 10-course dinner, lion dance and much more. Tickets are available via their website. However, if you’re seeking a more formal venue to celebrate, the
Hong Kong-Canada Business Association Chinese New Year at the Hilton Suites is the way to go. A champagne and dim sum reception starts off the night which features a fusion dinner, live entertainment and a draw for a vacation to Hong Kong. The tickets for this are a bit pricier at $250 per plate and are also available online. The event also takes place on Feb. 4.
Of course, as every year, there will be events at shopping centres as well. The Pacific Mall has live entertainment leading up to and throughout the festival and special events are also planned for Market Hill, First Markham Place and Markville Shopping Centre.
When asked how she’ll be celebrating, Sun offers pretty good advice: “Really, the best thing to do is to relax with family and go shopping.”