January 23 this year is the first day of the Chinese New Year but the celebrating has already started. A lot more will be happening on the weekends of January 21-22 and 28-29, and even beyond. The holiday traditionally goes on for 15 days until the Lantern Festival.
On the days leading up to the event, people try to pay off their debts. If they don’t, it means they will be in debt for the whole year. They spiffy up their homes and work places. They buy things that symbolize wealth, like plants of miniature oranges. The oranges are symbols of gold. They tie paper wishes onto wish trees. They visit temples, praying for good luck.
In China, on New Year’s Eve, temple bells were beaten 108 times to eliminate the 108 “worries.” I’m not sure if this happens in Toronto, but Fo Guang Shan Temple in Mississauga has a “New Year’s First Incense Offering and Ringing of Peace Bell.”
For dates, times and venues of this and the following free events, click on: www.torontomulticulturalcalendar.com.
In Toronto, Fairchild Radio, Pacific Mall, First Markham Place, and probably other malls will have midnight countdowns. The first three days are especially important for family events. This is a time for reunions and feasting. Fortune tellers will be busy. Temples and restaurants will be full. Banqueting on the first day is supposed to mean good eating for the rest of the year. People wear new clothes. Feasts to benefit charities have become popular.
On New Year’s Day, our father would not let us clean house or shower, lest we sweep or clean away the good luck. Ask your Chinese friends if they still do this. Everybody tries to be extremely nice and polite to each other, wishing each other prosperity with greetings like “kung hei fat choi” in Cantonese or “xin nian kuai le” in Mandarin. Chinese lions dance from store to store in Chinatowns, and even into restaurants. The lions are benevolent and they are hungry. They eat lettuce, which is hung along with a red envelope of money above the front door on a string. They chew the lettuce and spit it back out, spreading out wishes for prosperity. They keep the money.
Keep your ears open on these weekend for drums and cymbals in Chinatowns. The only date I know of is February 4 at the Gerrard and Broadview Chinatown.
People give children the red envelopes of lucky money too. It is called “lai see” in Cantonese or “hong bao” in Mandarin. In the old days, this good luck token was given to young people who weren’t married.
You might be interested in experiencing any of the following events. Most of the free ones in malls are meant to attract shoppers and you can see elements of Chinese culture there.
For more authentic celebrations, Harbourfront will be teaching traditional crafts. The Chi Ping troupe will have a recital of Chinese dances, many of them with cute children. The lions in Chinatowns collecting lettuce are really traditional. So are celebrations in Chinese temples like Fo Guang Shan in Mississauga. For temples, it’s an opportunity to raise money too, but it’s not quite the same as a mall.
If you do want something genuine with lots of nostalgia, I highly recommend that you look for celebrations of home-sick Chinese seniors. I was at one of these last year at a community centre. It was like being in a seniors’ club in China. Few members spoke English, but they performed dances and songs the way they did in China, a great show. A report of our experience is on http://bit.ly/zf8KuT. I’m not putting this event on www.TorontoMulticulturalCalendar.com because space for spectators is limited. There’s room for only a handful of outsiders so this notice is special to readers of this blog. It’s at the Oriole Community Centre, 2975 Don Mills Road, Multipurpose Room B on Thursday, January 26 from 9:30am to 12:30pm.There are probably others.
The web-site http://www.guidingstar.ca/Chinese_New_Year_Celebrations.htm lists events, mainly in Markham. First Markham Place has a New Year sidewalk sale that continues right up to February 5. It also has a fortune teller on hand who can tell you what will happen to you in the coming year. Pacific Mall and its neighbouring Market Place will have cultural shows.
If you tell us about your experiences with this festival and other free or nearly free events, I’ll add them to our Calendar.