If you’ve already done lion dances, kung fu demonstrations, and cute kids dancing in cute costumes and you have a limited budget – is there anything else you can do to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year which starts February 10?
Yes, there is, and here are a few ideas.
The most important thing is to eat Chinese food – which means your stomach will be full all next year. That’s the hope. Get some friends together and you can do a dim sum lunch for $15 or less per person. Dim sum prices range from $2.10 to $6.50 a basket or dish. Go early. Restaurants will have queues all day. For authenticity, we like the Sky Dragon at Dundas and Spadina, and Pearl Court on Gerrard east of Broadview. That’s where many Chinese people eat.
You can also shop at Loblaws or other supermarkets for a bag of frozen Chinese dumplings. Dumplings are a traditional New Year dish because they look like gold ingots – well sort of. They are easy to cook and you just need to dip them in Zhenjiang (or Balsamic) vinegar and grated ginger. That way, this feast is even cheaper than eating in a restaurant.
If a Chinese friend invites you for a home-cooked family banquet, consider yourself fortunate. A bottle of wine or flowers for the hostess might be all you have to pay for. If he or she has no kids, then it’s cheap. Giving money in lucky red envelopes to unmarried children in the family is a Chinese custom. These gifts are called lai see in Cantonese or hongbao in Mandarin. You can buy these envelopes in any Chinese book store or mall. A lucky envelope might have a picture on it of a friendly cartoon snake or even Snoopy. This new year is the Year of the Water Snake. Most Chinese people put a bill in these envelopes. No coins. The total amount must be a multiple of two, three, or eight. It must not contain any “fours.” Four is an unlucky number. So avoid four $5 or four $10 bills. Two $5 bills are okay.
Some events start the week before the big day, February 10. Many of Toronto’s Chinatowns and malls will have cultural performances. You can’t escape lion dances, but some are more spectacular than others. For the logistics, see our Calendar. For events in York region, which has the largest percentage of Chinese-speakers, see http://www.guidingstar.ca/Chinese_New_Year_Celebrations.htm . Don’t be frightened by the expensive banquets and balls. There are lots of other things to do cheaply or for free.
Just wandering around places like the second floor of Pacific Mall, and the Market Village next door is interesting. Look for plants with miniature oranges (representing gold). Many malls will have “side-walk sales.” Look for bargains – like guo-ji berries, herbal patches, and flower tea balls. The website is: http://www.pacificmalltoronto.com/. In the west end, there’s the Mississauga Chinese Centre at 888 Dundas St., E. Tel. 905-566-5606.
Go to a Chinese temple and pray for luck. The temples will be beautifully decorated for the occasion and most are open all day. Just drop in. On New Year’s Eve in China since ancient times, temple bells are beaten 108 times to eliminate the “108 worries.” This also happens in Toronto at Fo Guang Shan Temple in Mississauga. First Markham Place will have a “count-down” to midnight on February 9 with a program by Fairchild Radio.
You can have your fortune told. The Taoist temple on Darcy in the Spadina-Dundas area, and many other temples, have fortune-telling sticks. A priest there should be able to explain about these sticks. Calligrapher Paul Ng will be at First Markham Place on February 3. You can see Paul’s very detailed horoscope and predictions for 2013, based on the Chinese calendar and zodiac at: http://www.paulng.com/CMS/uploads/2013-geo.pdf . There will be time for some audience questions.
Some Chinese temples like Fo Guang Shan have markets where you can leave money and a New Year’s wish on a “wish tree.” You can also buy traditional treats, special calligraphy, and symbols, like pictures of the Kitchen God who reports to Heaven about the family.
You can join a group of home-sick Chinese seniors as they perform songs and dances that they knew in the homeland. Some have have danced in ethnic costumes and sung Peking opera This is an excellent opportunity to get to know some of your Chinese neighbours. They might not all speak English, but there will be someone there who does. One of these performances is on Feb. 15 at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux Centre (Scarborough) for $7. This fee covers food. Space is limited, so book this now if you want to go.
Follow a lion or lions as they dance from store to store taking good luck to merchants who give them food – in the form of lettuce and lai see packets. Sometimes the dancers have to do some amazing acrobatics to reach the food. Chinese lions are benevolent and vegetarian. This kind of lion dancing for collecting money is very traditional. On Feb. 17 at 1pm, politicians from all three government levels will gather to see off the lions as they dance through the Gerrard Chinatown. The late Jack Layton used to hand out lai see envelopes with candy in them on this occasion.
If you haven’t seen a lion dance, lions will also be at the New Year’s party on February 7 at Scadding Community Center (Bathurst & Dundas). You can find them at the malls listed in our www.torontomulticulturalcalendar.com . Market Village next to Pacific Mall will have the Sunny Tang Martial Arts dancers on Feb. 16. On Feb. 14, at 12:30, lions should start dancing door to door at the Pacific Mall. http://www.pacificmalltoronto.com/#!__home-page/events .
The show I liked best last year was at the Chinatown Centre in the Spadina-Dundas Chinatown. This year, performances will be on February 10 and include greetings from local officials. Markham should have some good performances too.
Harbourfront will have its Lunarfest February 8-10. Among its programs will be lions from six different cultures so you can compare the styles. For details of these and the above events, see www.torontomulticulturalcalendar.com .
Before you venture out to these events, always check by phone to make sure of the right dates and times.