We thought we would take a closer look at the Chinese New Year.  Hope you find what we came up with as interesting as we have!

January 23, 2012 marked the beginning of the Year of the Water Dragon in the Chinese calendar. In China, this day is known as the Spring Festival, marking the end of the winter season.

The Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar.  Starting with the new moon on the first day of the New Year the celebration ends with the Lantern Festival on the full moon 15 days later. The festival is celebrated at night with stunning lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade.

The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements, therefore, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. The Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-yearcycle) in order to reconnect with the solar calendar, very similar to the concept of leap year.

According to legend and folk lore, the origins of Chinese New Year began with the fight against Nian, a mythical beast. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year in hopes it would not eat anything else. It is said that on one occasion the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red leading the villagers to understand the beast’s fear of the colour.  Villagers then began hanging red lanterns and red spring scrolls in their doors and windows.  Red is also the emblem of joy, virtue, truth and sincerity. Firecrackers were also used to frighten away the Nian. The Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk, and it became Hongjun Laozu’s mount.

Customs concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely. For instance it is tradition that every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes to make way for good incoming luck.

Here are a few traditional superstitions to keep in mind:

  • DO clean your house before New Year’s Eve to rid of the previous year’s bad luck.
  • DON’T sweep or clean your house on New Year’s Day (this could sweep away good fortune).
  • DON’T use scissors or knives on New Year’s Day (this could cut off good fortune).
  • DON’T wash or cut your hair on New Year’s Day.
  • DO wear reds and yellows, bright and happy colours that will bring good fortune.
  • DON’T curse or speak of death. This could bring bad luck.
  • DO settle your debts before the New Year.
  • DO eat whole fish (abundance), chicken (prosperity) and dumplings (health and fortune).
  • DON’T cut noodles (they represent long life).
  • DON’T cry on New Year’s Day or you could end up crying for the rest of the year.

Prior to New Year’s Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with blossoming flowers and platters of fresh citrus fruits. A highlight is the tray called “The Tray of Togetherness”.  It is prepared with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit: an array of candy to start the New Year sweetly.

Each item represents a symbol of good fortune: 

Candied melon – growth and good health
Red melon seed – dyed red to symbolize joy, happiness, truth and sincerity 
 Lychee nut – strong family relationships
Cumquat – prosperity (gold)
Coconut – togetherness 
Longnan – many good sons
Peanuts – long life
Lotus seed – many children

Families will come together and share a feast on the eve of Chinese New Year.  The feast generally includes pork, duck, chicken and sweet delicacies. The evening is capped with fireworks.  Fireworks were historically made from bamboo stems filled with gunpowder.

Early the next morning, donning new clothes and shoes, children greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year.  The children traditionally receive red envelopes of money. The red envelopes or red packets are also passed out throughout the celebration from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors. Per custom, the amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals.

The Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges, and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone.

So with that said…

Gung Hey Fat Choy! – “Wishing You Prosperity and Health” from the Global Learning team!

“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I may remember. But involve me, and I’ll understand.”

~ Chinese Proverb

The following is a list of events to mark the Chinese New Year in the Toronto area:

  • CIBC Lunarfest: Walk through a giant lantern aquarium at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Lunarfest includes a contemporary showcase of Asian art, puppet shows, workshops, traditional New Year’s games and culinary treats. Friday until Tuesday. Admission is free.
  • Chinese New Year celebration at Scarborough Civic Centre: Performances include Lion Dance & Dragon dance, a variety of folk and classical dances performed by young dancers, singing and martial arts. Jan. 29, 2-4 p.m. Admission is free.
  • Chinese New Year community celebration at the Chinese Cultural Centre, Scarborough: Sunday, noon-3 p.m. Admission is free.
  • Chinese Cultural Centre Year of the Dragon banquet: Bring friends and family to the Chinese Cultural Centre’s banquet. Jan. 29, dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets $45/$60.
  • Chinatown Foodies Walk: Hosted by the Taste of the World’s culinary historian Shirley Lum, the event features dim sum and tours of a grocery store and Chinese bakery. Saturday, Sunday, Jan 28-29, Feb. 4-5, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Adult admission $45, seniors and students $40, children 12 and under $30.
  • The Year of the Dragon events at Markham’s Pacific Mall: New Year’s Eve countdown Sunday at 10:30 p.m. New Year’s Day celebration Monday at 3 p.m. Lion dance performances Jan. 28 at 12:30 p.m.



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