Chinese New Year isn’t just for China anymore. My first real Chinese New Year’s was in Beijing in 2008, when I learned to make dumplings, took a nap, and watched a ton of fireworks — then spent the next week trying to avoid their constant hailfire. But a year later, I was wandering around New York City and whaaaat? a firecracker sound? a paper-mache dragon head? It was Chinese New Year’s, downtown in New York.
Due to what Xinhua says is the growing overseas love of all things Chinese, celebrations outside the middle kingdom have been drawing bigger and bigger crowds. And it’s not just hua qiao on the bleachers, angling for a look at Ms. Chinatown, 2010. It’s anyone who wants to see the greatest parade of the year.
But while in China, families scrub down the house ahead of day one, then celebrate a distinct facet of the celebration on each of the holiday’s fifteen nights — abroad public ceremonies just fall whenever the weekend hits. Generally, those ceremonies consist of just an enormous parade. Participants, of course, try to wear mostly red. (Bonus points if all of your clothes are brand new — what better way to mark a fresh start for the coming year!)
So we thought we’d do a quick rundown of where to go if you’re not lucky enough to live in Guangzhou…
Japan doesn’t exactly…ugh…preach its love for China from a high mount. But in typical Tokyo fashion, the city is hosting one of the hippest Chinese New Year’s parties — Guest DJs & an MC from China are joining local DJ Jose and DJ Shima for a New Year’s Countdown at the First Bar, which holds the title as Tokyo’s largest bar. Extra: There’s a “fortune cookie giveaway at midnight.” No cover. Info here.
2009 saw Paris’ first official, government organized Chinese New Year parade and this year, it’s getting a whole lot better. In Belleville, there’s a big ol’ parade. It’s on February 14th. Parade route and info here.
10 years ago, Chinese-Indonesians were forced to celebrate the holiday underground. Soeharto’s 30 year iron rule saw that anything related to Chinese culture was banned. But the country’s fourth president, Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid lifted the ban, and it was finally declared an official public holiday by his successor. Now, the country’s large Chinese population celebrates proudly. I was interested to learn the country’s food policy was a tad different from the mainland’s. Island Life Magazine explained that Indonesians serve “kue lapis,” a local layered cake to their guests. The explanation is long — basically the Mandarin word for cake “gao” has the same sound as the word for “high achievement” and when it’s preceded by the word “nian” for year, it sounds like you get higher year by year… so that’s why the layered cake.
Never a city to pass over a chance to do things flashier, Singapore developed it’s own brand of Chinese New Year in the 19th century — a big, gold-leafed procession called “Chingay” — a phonetic equivalent of the phrase “the art of costume and masquerade,” alluding to Chinese-style miniature float carried on the shoulders of performers. Past versions of the parade included huge animals, floats carried on the shoulders of performers, and jugglers. This year it’s still the city’s biggest parade and it’s gone global, incorporating Taiwanese acrobats and salsa dancers into the mix. Popstars Tabitha Nauser and Zhiyang are singing, and three huge balloons will carry a total of 1,500 performers. Holy wow! Info here.
Clearly, Taiwan has a huge Chinese New Year. But the region is also known for having pretty much the world’s best and biggest Lantern Festival — the festivity which falls on the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year. Taipei has an exhibition of 223 hand-painted lanterns on exhibition at the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, while the city’s Lantern Fest at CKS park sees the sidewalks crowded with oglers looking at the fancy, cartoon-shaped illumined balloons. But the real traditional element of the fest happens at the park’s riverside, where locals do what they’ve done for a thousand years: light candles beneath fragile, paper lanterns such that the hot air within the balloon makes them rise — ever and ever higher until somewhere up there, nearer to the stars, they burn and fall.
Even Helsinki, yes, Helsinki has a fest this year — thanks to a cooperation between Helsinki and Beijing. It’ll include fireworks, a faux Chinese market and — get this — live broadcasts of Beijing’s events.
The UK capital claims to have the biggest New Year’s celebration outside of Asia, consisting of a Parade route that weaves out of Trafalgar Square. San Francisco contests it’s claims, but whatever the case — don’t miss London’s homage to its former colony — “Hong Kong in London,” the new name for Shaftesbury Avenue, as it’ll be blanketed with food stalls and displays. Plus, two groups from China will perform dance and acrobatics. Info here!
The biggest event in the States is in its biggest Chinatown — a parade sponsored by Southwest Airlines that winds around San Francisco, and has been going on annually since the 1860s which, in the young United States, is about as significant a historical event for the country as Chinese New Year is to China. (That’d make it as old as Christmas.) The parade is officially the biggest night-time parade outside of Asia and, it’s contesting with London, the biggest parade outside of Asia. A crowd favorite is the Golden Dragon, which is so enormous it takes 100 men and women to carry it. My favorite? The yearly crowned Miss Chinatown USA and her “court” of attendant ladies. Ooh la la.
Though less grand than San Francisco, the festivities hosted by the huge immigrant community in New York’s Queens Flushing neighborhood are spunky and a whole lot of fun. I say, the weekend before you should prep by learning to make dumplings at MOCA New York and on February 20th, join the crowd to watch the parade wind through Flushing. Lots of good food stalls will mark the route down Union Street. Of note: organizers claim the parade is the only one that has Korean, Jewish, Hindu and other groups all celebrating together. The float that interested me most? The float hosted by hometown baseball team, the Mets. Info here.
Every year there’s a parade organized by Australia’s half a million residents of Chinese descent, but this year is the first that 400 performers from the south-western city of Chongqing are marching in Sydney’s main event, the twilight parade.
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND
Wellington, New Zealand isn’t just having a parade and a few random events. They’re adhering closely to the traditional New Year’s calendar and, the day before New Year’s, they’re having a fashion show to celebrate “New Clothes for the New Year.” Along with exquisite antique costumes from ethnic minority groups in China, brought over thanks to the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Wellington, the city is hosting a local fashion show including designs from Natalie Chan, DeNada, Zantis, and Voon designs. More info here.
BUT WHO CARES?
Ha, I knew that title would jostle you! What I mean is, who cares about these flashy parades? The real message of Chinese New Year is spending time with your family and loved ones, eating way too much, and wearing your best duds — even if they’re not new. My favorite part of Chinese New Year? Day 15 — or yuán xiāo jié — when everyone gets drunk, eats baozi, lights some lanterns, and the incessant fireworks begin, around 3 a.m., to die down, signaling the real start of this new year.
Then again, what have we got to look forward to next year?
This year is the year of the White Tiger. (Remember how it was a golden pig year and a brown cow year? The zodiac cycles through the five elements, each of which has its own color, and the color representing metal is white.) Unfortunately, this is one of those combinations you do not want — a kind of “jinx” symbol that heralds a bad year. Plus, of all zodiac animals the Tiger is the most ferocious and cruel and quick-jumping. Uh oh! Combine it with metal, and it recalls a tiger wearing armor. And according to astrologers, if you put armor on a tiger it jumps around — we should keep our distance from it.