The Chinese/Lunar New Year/Spring Festival Year of the Rooster begins Saturday, January 28. Chinese-speakers represent about 12% of Toronto’s population so you can be sure of many different celebratory events from which to choose. The following are free or nearly-free – unless you splurge on customary goodies.
The holiday ends with the Lantern Festival 15 days later on February 11.
My personal favourite New Year event is my own intimate family gatherings. Sorry, we don’t have room for more people to join us. My second favourite is the Jiaozi Festival organized by the Canada-China Friendship Association. This is small, fun and open to everyone. You get to make and eat traditional dumplings with friendly Canadian Sinophiles and people from China.
My third favourite are the New Year Fairs at Fo Guang Shan Temple. These are run by friendly volunteers from this temple and make me think of old, pre-modern China with its wish tree, children making good luck signs in Chinese, and candied hawthorn sticks.
The programs at the Chinatown malls are usually fun, but are very crowded. Some of them have competitions and flashmobs as well as creative lion dances and singing children. If you don’t mind crowds, these are worth joining but you have to endure a lot of speeches from officials and politicians. Try to get there early if you want a seat. In many cases, only the VIPs get good seats.
Image Copyright ©2017 Ruth Lor Malloy
Interesting too are festivals in Chinese seniors’ clubs or homes. Here seniors dance their old dances, sing their traditional songs and eat favourite foods with much nostalgia. For example, St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux Centre’s Chinese Seniors’ celebration will be on Sunday, February 5, 2-4pm. $3 for non-members. Recreation Room, 3333 Finch Avenue East. Phone first to see if there’s room for outsiders. 416-493-3333.
The following are among the affordable Year of the Rooster’s celebrations anyone can join. Not all have up-to-date websites however. You might have to phone for current information.
A Visit to Stalls in Toronto’s many Chinatowns which sell lucky laisee envelopes, calligraphy, and pictures of the Kitchen God. You can find special new year’s foods and snacks there too. Just a tour of a Chinese mall will give you a feeling of this most important of festivals.
Annual Jiaozi Festival. Dumplings look like ancient gold ingots. Traditionally family and friends gather to make and eat them. The only happening I know where everyone is welcome is on January 21. 4pm. $10. No previous experience necessary. Downsview United Church, 2822 Keele Street, just north of Hwy 401, free parking. To reserve your ticket(s), call or e-mail Jeff Huber, 1-905-630-6333, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Toronto Canada-China Friendship Association. http://federation.tripod.com/events.html.
New Year Fair. Free entry. Fo Guang Shan Temple, starting January 30 at 6525 Millcreek Drive, Mississauga. 905-814-0465. Temple members volunteer to make and sell New Year goodies and take part in dragon dances. This temple also has a traditional New Year’s eve countdown at midnight with the ringing of its temple bell 108 times. Money made goes to the temple. See also: http://www.english.fgs2.ca/?q=temple-news.
Fortune Telling by Toronto geomancer Paul Ng. Online free. For his 2017 schedule and predictions, see: http://www.paulng.com/CMS/index.php.
Animal signs: In order to foretell your future Chinese-style, you need to know your animal sign: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac. President-elect Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946. That makes him a dog. You can look up what could be in store for him, and for you.
Lucky/Lisee packets. You give these to children, students, and in some cases, employees. Inside are preferably bills, not coins, and never in any multiple of four (which is bad luck). These are frequently distributed by politicians at door-to-door lion dances, and by the God of Wealth at New Year’s Celebrations. These are in the form of chocolate coins, not real cash.
Door-to-Door Lion Dances. This is another old Chinese tradition as dancers collect money and real lettuce from the top of doorways in Chinese communities. Lion Dancers shred the lettuce and toss pieces back to patrons for good luck. The dancers of course keep the money. Lion dancers require a great deal of athleticism, especially the “head” of the lion which chews up the lettuce while perched on top of its “back end”. To find these roving groups, just follow the sound of the drummers on weekends near Chinese commercial areas. Many politicians, Chinese and otherwise, follow the dancers and use the opportunity to pass out lucky laisee packets with a chocolate coin or a candy inside to all within reach. You might find lions dancing from table to table in Chinese restaurants.
Performing Lion Dancers. If you’ve seen one, you haven’t seen them all. Athletic clubs compete with each other with newer and better variations of this traditional dance usually during mall performances.
You might find dragon dances at mall performances and the Fo Guang Shan Temple. I have yet to see a dragon as elaborate at this one that lives in Hong Kong. Let me know if you do. I expect one day, this variety will show up in Toronto too as our kung fu clubs follow Hong Kong and mainland China trends.
Image from Hong Kong Tourism Board website.
New Year Countdowns. These happen in some malls. Temples have them also and usually toll 108 times as adherents try to get rid of the 108 “defilements”: jealousy, greed, sarcasm, envy, etc.
Chinese temples will be specially decorated for donations, prayers or mediation; for example, Cham Shan Temple at 7254 Bayview Ave, Thornhill. Tel. 905-886-1522. Just leave your shoes at the door, walk in, and tour the sanctuary clockwise. Leave a donation. http://tbjyt.org/schedule_e.html.
Shopping Malls. According to the Toronto Foundation, in 2011 Toronto had … 66 Chinese shopping centres (57 in the ethnoburbs) to serve 500,000 Chinese ethnic residents in the Toronto Region. Today’s there are probably more.
Each of the Chinese shopping centres and even some non-ethnic neighbourhood malls will probably have some Chinese New Year’s program. Look for posters in the malls and in neighbourhood newspapers. For example, Fairview Mall will celebrate with a Chinese program on Saturday, January 28 at 11:30am. https://www.cfshops.com/fairview-mall/news-events/events/lunar-new-year-2017.html.
The Guiding Star site list events in Markham where many of Toronto’s Chinese live. Some of these are very expensive, some free. See: http://www.guidingstar.ca/Chinese_New_Year_Celebrations.htm.
Continue to consult the Guiding Star site as more events are added. One year it listed a wonderful lion dance competition. This year for example, it says events at the huge Pacific Mall start on Friday, January 27 at 10pm. “Opening Ceremony, Entertainment and Countdown to the Arrival of the Year of the Rooster.” www.pacificmalltoronto.com. Malls usually have store-to-store lion dances so telephone for dates and times.
The Dundas-Spadina Chinatown has shows at the Dragon City Mall (corner Dundas and Spadina) on January 28 at 12pm, and also at Walker Mall, 421 Dundas Street West at 1-2pm. Free. 416-260-9800.
Toronto Public Library. Programs for children. Free. Steeles branch, January 21; Elmwood Park branch, January 28, and Pape/Danforth branch January 27.
Our featured image is a “God of Fortune”. Image Copyright ©2017 Ruth Lor Malloy.
Kung Hay Fat Choy (Cantonese). Xīn nián kuài lè (Mandarin). Happy New Year.