Lunar New Year celebrated in Australia

(AAP)

Today marks the first day of the new year for many Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese people throughout the world.

It's goodbye to the year of the snake and an enthusiastic welcome to the year of the horse.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Also known as the Lunar New Year, the date varies each year from late January to late February, with New Year's Eve falling on the first new moon of the new year.

(Click on audio tab above to hear full item)

The tradition of welcoming the Lunar New Year dates back to the time of Chinese Emperor Huang Li in 2600 BC.

Like the Western calendar, the Chinese lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon.

Because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February.

A complete lunar cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.

In China, Lunar New Year celebrations see the return home of millions of Chinese who migrated to the cities, triggering one of the largest movements of people in the world.

And while the movement of people isn't so dramatic in Australia, the Lunar New Year is still a time of celebration across the country.

ARTICLE: What is Lunar New Year?

Nancy Liu, Deputy Mayor of Hurstville City Council in Sydney - where 25 per cent of the city's population have Chinese ancestry - says the occasion is about family.

"Traditionally we normally stay at home and cook for the new year dinner for all the family members, normally the adult children will come back to the grandparents' home to celebrate with the whole family," she said.

"The people won't sleep before midnight. They wait for the new year to come and say happy new year to every family member. They will cook a few dishes to represent good luck and fortune like vegetables with different colours to represent red or green, that means the good harvest."

Hurstville City has its own celebrations, including a dragon and lion dance through the local shopping centre.

It's a similar situation in many other cities in Australia, including Monash City in Melbourne where Mandarin is the most widely spoken language after English.

Monash displays numerous red lanterns throughout the city, an ancient practice believed to encourage good fortune for the year ahead.

PICTURES: Lunar New Year around the world

City of Monash Councillor Jie-Yung Lo explains:

"We host the festival on an annual basis, usually away from the new year itself. So the lantern festival traditionally in China is held on the 15th day of the new year. The Chinese believe that the 15th day of the new year is an important one because it is when the moon is the largest in terms of the new year period. So the moon has a very important role in Chinese culture. So we celebrate that in the Lunar New Year as part of this festival."

An important feature of the Lunar New Year is the influence of the Chinese zodiac.

Each new year is represented by a different animal and there are 12 animals making up the Chinese zodiac, one for each of the 12 years in the lunar cycle.

Legend has it the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from Earth but only 12 animals came.

Buddha honoured each of them with a year, in order of their arrival: first, the Rat, then Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar.

2014 will traditionally be the year of the Horse, but one man says it is also the year of the kookaburra.

Wayne Tseng is the President of the Chinese Precinct Chamber of Commerce, and a Chinese zodiac buff.

This year he's launching a Chinese-Australian zodiac which pairs Australian animals with those featured in the Chinese zodiac.

"Actually we've chosen the kookaburra. According to the horse in Chinese folklore, it is very conscious of its own image, has very much family-centred type of feelings, and also looks out for one and other which happens to be the characteristics of a kookaburra itself as well. It barks, it attracts attention, and it particularly the male always seems to exert that kind of very, very self-confident image which the horse does as well."

Wayne Tseng says he consulted Chinese feng-shui experts, those versed in the Chinese philosophical system of harmonising the human existence with the surrounding environment, and Australian wildlife experts to put together the zodiac.

"I've always had an understanding of the Chinese zodiac and I find a lot of the animals share similar characteristics. So we've assembled a panel of Chinese heritage experts, with feng-shui Chinese heritage, and also experts on Australian marsupials who have come up with a matching pair. Say for example the monkey being very mischievous, smart and cunning share the same characteristics as the Tasmanian devil. It was designed to try and cross-promote between Australian and Chinese culture. It's just an initiative designed to allow new Chinese migrants into the country and have a better understanding of Australia and why not start with our native animals?"

COMMENT: China and Australia share multicultural future

Councillor Toan Nguyen is with southwestern Sydney's Bankstown Council, where nine per cent of the population is of Vietnamese origin.

In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is known as Tet and Bankstown's large Vietnamese and Chinese communities also have their own celebrations.

The Council runs a competition every year for what's known as the best Mai tree - an ornamental tree created from bamboo and hung with shop-bought and home-made decorations.

The tree is said to symbolise the hope of a new year.

"The Mai tree or the blossom tree brings good luck. It doesn't grow because it's odd seasons, so what we normally do here in Australia is more just symbolism. We make it out of dry flowers and it's sort of decorated like in a vase inside the house in the main living areas and outside. So basically participants they can come to the show and if they would like to take part they will be given materials and so on to construct their own blossom or Mai branches and the best one will be judged at the end of the day and prizes will be given to the winners. "

With Asian communities scattered throughout the world, New Year is often a time for people to return to the place where they were born.

Reverence and respect must be shown to ancestors and senior family members, so family gatherings are an essential feature of the Lunar New Year holiday.

For those expecting babies in 2014, people born in the year of the horse are said to have good energy levels, a love of communication and attention - but they can also be temperamental and prone to outbursts.

Source World News Australia

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