The Lunar and Chinese New Year Spring Festival this year starts on February 16. This is a time for visits with family and friends, banqueting and new clothes, and paying off debts. One hopes the banqueting and being debt-free will continue all year with this new start. On New Year’s Day in small-town Ontario, our father never allowed us to wash our hair or clean our home lest we sweep away good luck.
China. Chinese speakers represent about 12% of Toronto’s population so you can be sure of many different celebratory events from which to choose. 181,255 Torontonians speak Chinese at home. Many more are of Chinese origin. The following Chinese events are free or nearly-free – unless you splurge on banquets, galas, and expensive traditional goodies. The holiday ends with the Lantern Festival 15 days later on March 2.
My personal favourite New Year’s 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 as well as people from China. It took place this year very early this month on the third. We mentioned it already in a previous blog.
Celebratory events can take place any time during the month but the main event is three days on and after February 16.
My third favourite is the New Year Fair at Fo Guang Shan Temple. 65525 Millcreek Drive in Mississauga. These fairs 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. Fo Guang Shan also has a New Year’s Countdown and dragon dances.
The programs at the Chinatown malls are usually fun, but very crowded. Some of them have competitions and flash mobs 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.
Interesting too are festivals in Chinese seniors’ clubs or homes, churches, and community centres. Here seniors or members dance their old dances, sing their traditional songs, and eat favourite foods with much nostalgia. For example, Scadding Community Centre’s event is on February 8, 1-3pm, and anyone can join it for free. You don’t have to be Chinese or even of Asian origin.
The following are also among the affordable Year of the Dog’s events. 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 mall will give you a feeling of this most important of festivals. The biggest mall is Markham’s Pacific Mall which has stores with traditional items especially on its second floor.
Annual Jiaozi Feasting. Dumplings look like ancient silver or gold ingots. Traditionally family and friends gather to make and eat these. Ask your Chinese friends about them, and if you are lucky, they might invite you to a fun time with this hands-on custom.
Fortune Telling by Toronto Geomancer Paul Ng. Online free. For his 2018 schedule and predictions, see: https://www.paulng.com/news.aspx
Animal signs: In order to predict your future the Chinese way, you need to know your animal year: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac. President Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946. That makes him a dog. You can look up Paul Ng’s predictions to see what could be in store for him, and for you in the New Year.
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). Even Walmart has been selling these envelopes.
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 strength and balance, 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 drums 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 hoping for votes. 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 lion and dragon dances at malls and Buddhist temples. I have yet to see a dragon as elaborate at this on dragon 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.
New Year Countdowns. These happen in some malls at midnight on New Years Eve. Temples have them also and usually bells tolls 108 times as adherents try to get rid of the 108 “defilements”: jealousy, greed, sarcasm, envy, etc.
Chinese temples will be specially decorated for prayers or meditation; for example, Cham Shan Temple at 7254 Bayview Ave, Thornhill. Tel. 905-886-1522 or spectacular Jing Yin Temple, 722 Brimley in Scarborough. Just leave your shoes at the door, walk in, and tour the sanctuary clockwise. Leave a donation.
Shopping Malls. Each of the Chinese 50 plus shopping centres and even some non-ethnic neighbourhood malls will probably have some Chinese New Year’s program. Look for posters in the stores and in free newspapers outside grocery store doors. For example, Fairview Mall will celebrate with a Chinese program on Saturday, February 17. https://www.cfshops.com/content/cf/retail/canada/fairview-mall/en/home/news-events/events/lunar-new-year.html.
The Guiding Star site lists events in Markham where many of Toronto’s Chinese live. Some of these events are very expensive, some free. See: http://www.guidingstar.ca/Chinese_New_Year_Celebrations.htm.
The Dundas-Spadina Chinatown. January 28. 12pm. Free. Dragon City Mall, 280 Spadina Avenue and Chinatown Centre, 222 Spadina Avenue (corner Dundas and Spadina). 416-260-9800.
Toronto Public Library. Eight programs for children. Free. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/search.jsp?N=&Ns=p_pub_date_sort&Nso=1&Ntt=chinese+new+year
Among other New Year’s events:
Korea. KCCA invites you to our 2018 Korean Lunar New Year Festival. Saturday, February 17. 11am. Korean Canadian Cultural Association, 1133 Leslie Street. http://www.eng.koreancentre.on.ca/index
Korea. Buddhist. Lunar New Year’s Day Sangha Potluck: Saturday February 17. 6pm. Zen Buddhist Temple, 86 Vaughan Road. https://www.zenbuddhisttemple.org/toront
Malaysia. 2018 Lunar New Year Annual Gala. February 24. 6pm. Malaysian Association of Canada.
Multicultural. LunarFest. February 19. Lunarfest has moved to Mississauga from Harbourfront. “LunarFest returns in style at its new home in the GTA. Join us this Family Day for all sorts of fun and games, from fortune telling and doing a Moon Crawl to doggie arts & crafts and more!” Living Arts Centre, 4141 Living Arts Drive, Mississauga. https://lunarfest.org/mississauga
Tibet. Losar. Tibetan New Years. February 16. 10am-5pm. Phone for information and price. https://www.tcccgc.org/events/tibetan-losar/
Day Program and Bollywood Dance Party. February 18. 10am-11:30pm. $25. https://www.tcccgc.org/events/community-losar-event-and-dance-party
Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre, 40 Titan Road, Etobicoke. Phone: 416-410-5606. Website: www.tcccgc.org
Losar. Tibetan New Year. February 16. Open from 8am. Free but donations appreciated. Riwoche Tibetan Buddhist Temple, 28 Heintzman Street. “Traditionally, people do not eat before coming to the temple. After chanting and praying together we go downstairs and have some traditional Tibetan fare (rice with raisins and Tibetan cookies ). This way, we have the first meal of the New Year together. It is also traditional to buy some new, never worn, clothes and wear them to the event (not mandatory, but a nice custom). It is also customary to make offerings to the lamas, monks, and nuns of the Temple when visiting on this day.” http://www.riwoche.com/calendar/cal-2018-Feb.pdf
Singapore. This city-state celebrates in Toronto with expensive multi-course Chinese banquets. We haven’t found anything affordable for the likes of us. See Malaysia also.
Vietnam. We mentioned one big Vietnamese celebration (February 4) in our previous Blog. Here’s another:
The very FIRST Vietnamese New Year celebration at Mississauga City Hall. Wednesday, February 7. 1pm-3pm. Free admission. Mississauga City Hall Main Atrium, 300 City Center Drive, Mississauga.
Organizers: The Canadian Vietnamese Network, Thoi Bao Canada, Voice Canada, the Republic of Vietnam Veterans Association, and the Phap Van Buddhist Cultural Center. “This event will be attended by the Mayor and members of the Mississauga City Council. Be sure to stay for the whole program which includes a lion dance, ethnic dance and lunch! Please register early and get your ticket ASAP!” https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/tet-vietnamese-lunar-new-year-city-hall-tickets-42463731163?aff=es2.
Kung Hay Fat Choy (Cantonese). Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (Mandarin). Happy New Year of the Dog!
Note: I regret being unable to list some very important events like India’s Republic Day during the rest of February and into March. I’m rushing to get as many blogs done before I leave Toronto on a couple trips. This will probably be my last blog until I get back in late April – unless something unexpected comes up. If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to our newsletter so you will know when our next blog will appear with its many affordable events in our culturally-diverse city. See top right “Newsletter” and please “Subscribe.” Ruth