Many of us ushered in the New Year on January 1 and called it a day. Chinese Australians, however, are gearing up to celebrate New Year’s for the second time, as the Lunar calendar welcomes the Year of the Dragon on January 23.
Chinese New Year is easily one of the biggest cultural events on our calendar – so much so the celebrations continue for 15 days. During the event, revellers wear red (a colour the Chinese view as lucky), decorate their homes with oranges and tangerines (for good health and long life), and enjoy abundant feasts, preparing only foods which are thought to bring good fortune.
Other traditions include red pockets filled with money, known as hong baos, which married couples give to children and unmarried adults. Generally holding a single note, these are considered to bring good luck to both the giver and the recipient. Vivian Luo, who grew up in China and migrated to Australia in 1995, has fond memories of hong baos. "When you’re little, this can equal your 'savings’ for the entire year. I always loved seeing the new and interesting designs of the pockets themselves and would collect the most beautiful ones."
Under the light of the full moon, Chinese New Year concludes with the lantern festival – decorated hand-crafted lanterns are carried through the streets in an evening parade. The highlight, however, is the theatrical dragon dance. To the Chinese, dragons aren’t the fire-breathing man-eaters depicted in modern films. Instead, they’re considered friendly creatures linked to long life and wisdom. During the dance, performers animate the dragon using poles to raise and lower the body, which can be up to 100 metres long.
For Luo, Chinese New Year is linked to many childhood memories which are associated with growing up in China. "It’s about tradition and being proud of my heritage. [This is] especially important now that I have my daughter, Anna – it’s something I want to pass onto her."
No matter your cultural heritage, Chinese New Year events, with their traditional food stalls and dazzling parades, offer the chance to learn more about a culture that has brought so much to – and which forms a vibrant part of – Australia. "Sydney comes together for Chinese New Year and, in recent years, the festival has expanded to embrace other countries that observe the Lunar calendar, including Korea and Vietnam," says Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. "The scale and range of celebrations recognise the important role these cultures play in our city’s cultural and economic life."
Sydney's Chinatown, in Dixon Street, hosts ever-growing Chinese New Year festivities, which span three weeks, including a grand parade, dragon boat races, and bustling night markets. The area around Little Bourke Street in Melbourne is known for its Chinese grocery stores and restaurants, and Brisbane has a significant Chinatown in Fortitude Valley.
Here’s a compilation of Chinese New Year celebrations taking place around Australia:
What: Festival launch
When: 6-8pm, January 20
Where: Belmore Park (across Eddy Avenue from Central Station)
A traditional eye-dotting ceremony brings dragons and lions to life, and firecrackers scare off the previous year’s misfortunes with spectacular sparkle and plenty of loud bangs. There’s live entertainment from international performers on stage, including a sneak preview of the Parade and an array of flavours to enjoy at the many food stalls.
What: Twilight Parade
When: 8-9:45pm, January 29
Where: Town Hall to Chinatown
The magical Twilight Parade will weave its way, dragon-style, under the beauty of an evening sky illuminated by giant projections on Sydney's buildings. Experience pre-parade entertainment, including street art, dancers and acrobats, and, as dusk descends, a giant dragon head leading the parade through the city.
What: Dragon Boat Races
When: 8am-5pm, February 4 & 5
Where: Cockle Bay, Darling Harbour
Dragon boat racing is a cultural phenomenon of China, with a long history dating back to the Zhou Dynasty (770BC to 256BC). A symbol of good fortune and a sign of intense power, these mythical beasts appear to surge through the water, as 12-metre long boats decorated to feature the head and tail of the dragon battle it out in Cockle Bay.
What: City of Melbourne CNY Festival Launch
When: January 29
Where: Little Bourke Street, Chinatown
On Sunday January 29, to the sound of beating drums and firecrackers, dragons will prance through Melbourne’s Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year. Our Millennium Dragon is the longest processional dragon in the world. It will dance its way around Chinatown, accompanied by other dragons. The dragons will be fed apples and other goodies by local merchants, in exchange for bringing good fortune. This is a fun, loud and colourful festival!
What: Box Hill Lunar New Year Celebrations
When: 3pm-3am, January 21
Where: Box Hill Central (Main and Market Streets)
Some of the festival highlights include a Buddha statue that will be open to the public for viewing, the Parade of Choi Sun, the Chinese God of Fortune, plus all the sights and sounds of Chinese music and dance, which will fill the streets of central Box Hill.
What: Chinese New Year banquet
When: 6:30pm, January 20
Where: Golden Dragon Museum Tea Rooms
Cost: $40 for adults, $25 for children (aged 5-10 years). Bookings essential.
What: Street Festival
When: 6:30pm till late, January 28
Where: Dai Gum San (Museum Forecourt)
Get set for dragon dances, new lion dances, a Chinese magic show, Orchid New Music, bamboo dances, a fire cracker display and other exciting new acts. There will also be more than 25 stalls offering Asian food, cultural acts, games, give-aways and more!
What: Valley CNY Festival
When: 6-10pm, January 20, 21, 22
Where: Duncan Street, Chinatown, Fortitude Valley
The City of Brisbane presents the 2012 Chinese New Year Festival. There will be celebrations over three days at Chinatown, Fortitude Valley, which will showcase over 50 performances, 24 stalls, lion dances, dragon dances and fire crackers.
What: Lunar New Year Festival
When: 5-10pm, January 21, 21
Where: Inala, CJ Sport Complex, Kimberly Street and Freeman Road, Richlands
What: CNY celebrations
When: 6-9pm, January 24, 25
Where: Victoria Avenue Mall, Broadbeach
The Gold Coast 2012 Chinese New Year Festival will take place over two days at various venues, and will showcase more than 20 performances, arts and craft stalls, lion dances, dragon dances and fire crackers.
What: CNY celebrations
When: January 22-29
Where: Northbridge Piazza, Corner Lake and James Street, Northbridge
The City of Perth will welcome in the Chinese Year of the Dragon with a week of festivities at the Northbridge Piazza from January 22-29. Celebrations will include Chinese new-release feature film screenings; live TVB (Chinese Satellite TV) coverage of the New Year countdown, famous Hong Kong night parade and fireworks display; and the Chung Wah Chinese New Year fair day.
What: CNY celebrations
When: 12-5pm, January 28
Where: Chinatown, 37 Moonta Street
SBS Radio will be broadcasting live from 2012 Lunar New Year events in Sydney and Melbourne. Meet your favourite presenters and be in with a chance to win a $10,000 travel experience. Enter via SBS Radio.