The most important event in the Chinese calendar, celebrating the New Year isn’t just confined to China.
2018 marks the Year of the Dog, and many countries celebrate the occasion with a lot of pomp and ceremony. Countries in the southeast and northeast Asia region have festivities that last a week or two, given their large Chinese populations.
However, in the west, the migration of many Chinese communities means that we too get to enjoy the cultural delights of this holiday. What’s more, seeing how other countries celebrate the Chinese New Year showcases some of the best holiday destinations.
Chinese New Year festivities around the world
Let’s start at the country of origin, China. The Chinese New Year’s also known as the Spring Festival, and is celebrated at the turn of the lunisolar Chinese calendar. So important is this holiday, that it’s the busiest, and the largest, migration period for the Chinese people to return back to their families.
The festival is centuries old and connected to several customs, such as families getting together for a reunion dinner. Many people also consider it good luck to clean the house, take out the old items, and make way for plenty of incoming good luck.
Traditionally, red is the colour of good luck in Chinese culture, which is why you see many windows and doors adorned with decorations. Another custom is giving money in red paper envelopes, all of which symbolise good fortune, happiness and wealth.
During the lead-up to the New Year, there are many activities such as the dragon dances, lion dances and the emperor’s wedding. In Beijing, there are temple fairs in this period. People visit not only to pray, but also to see the entertainment and for the tasty snacks on offer.
On the first minute of the New Year, they set off fireworks and firecrackers to welcome a fresh start.
Like most big traditions around the world, food plays an important role in the celebrations. The types of dishes they serve at the New Year’s Eve dinner differ according to the region. In the north, dumplings feature heavily in many households. In the south, they’re more likely to feast on duck, Chinese sausage, and seafood, like abalone.
In many regions, a lot of families serve fish. While there’s nothing unusual about that, they tend to follow the Chinese saying, ‘let there be fish every year,’ and therefore always leave some behind.
Around 70% of Singapore’s population is of Chinese descent, and are Chinese-Singaporean citizens. While some things vary, many traditions are the same. People keep the tradition of wearing new clothes and hats, and even change bedsheets and duvets.
Many festivities take place in Chinatown, with lion and dragon dances taking place at Kreta Ayer Square, and fire-eaters to wow the crowds.
Singapore’s Chingay Parade is the country’s version of a carnival Mardi Gras, and a colouful joy to watch, with glittery floats, performers, dancers and acrobats!
The River Hongbao at Marina Bay’s floating platform, is another annual event to mark the occasion. A festival guaranteed to have you immersed in the Chinese culture, the River Hongbao showcases larger-than-life lanterns, statues from the zodiac and plenty of amusements and rides on its grounds. On the opening night, there’s also a dazzling firework display to set off the event with a bang.
United States – San Francisco
There are around 2.7 million Chinese people living in the United States. However, of all the states, the city of San Francisco in California, is home to one of the oldest Chinatowns in the country. The reason for the large Chinese population dates back to the 1800s, and the Gold Rush of California. Many Chinese immigrants came looking for work, and liked it so much, that they decided to stay. Since then, the community has celebrated the New Year with their own traditions.
The parade usually starts around Market Street and finishes in Jackson and Kearny Street. The San Francisco parade is one of the largest in the country, and so popular, that it attracts approximately 3 million people every year. As well as several colourful floats, there’s a 28ft dragon to entertain the masses too. People carry colorful banners, drums and set off firecrackers to add to the festival atmosphere.
Other cities such as New York and Seattle also hold their own Chinese New Year festivities. Chinese communities that celebrate with their families still uphold the traditions of getting together with the family for the dinner, and exchanging red envelopes.
In Kuala Lumpur, the Petaling Street area is where you’ll find the heart of the action. Many Malaysian Chinese people during this period visit the temples to pray for blessings for the new year. Look out for the lion and dragon dances that take place in the shopping malls. The animals weave within the shops to bring blessings and good luck for the year ahead.
On the 15th, and last day, of the Chinese New Year celebrations, Malaysian Chinese celebrate Chap Goh Mei. It’s similar to Valentine’s Day for young unmarried women that hope to find a suitable husband. They decorate their homes in bright lights, write their phone numbers on oranges and throw them into the sea.
Tradition dictates that the men that find them will be their future spouses! The legend is, if the orange is bitter, it’s ill-fated, but if it’s sweet, there’s a prosperous match ahead. Once Chap Goh Mei has passed, daily life resumes with each hoping to have a prosperous year ahead.
Over 600,000 people attend the celebrations in Sydney’s Chinatown every year. Events span over 3 weeks and include evening street food stalls, dragon boat races, outdoor food markets and multiple parades.
At the harbourside, revelers can watch the annual Dragon Boat Races and cheer on their favourite teams. If you fancy something more cultural, you can check out some of the demonstrations by master calligraphy artists. And you definitely don’t want to miss the stunning lunar lanterns in the shape of the zodiac signs around Circular Quay.
Other state capital cities such as Brisbane and Adelaide also celebrate the Chinese New Year given its large Chinese communities.
Expect to see the common lion and dragon dance performances as well as a New Year’s market and food festival.