• “Chinese New Year really does serve as a reminder of what your family use to do and where your family’s from.” (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
As centuries-old traditions continue in modern China, this is how three generations of Chinese Australians will mark the upcoming Lunar New year festival.
By
Lin Evlin

24 Jan 2017 - 11:45 AM  UPDATED 27 Jan 2017 - 11:46 AM

In China, Chinese New Year’s Eve marks day one of the longest public holiday period of the year, celebrated by most of the country’s 1.37 billion strong-population.

Streets are typically buzzing with anticipation as millions of people hurriedly do last minute shopping or make their way home to reunite with their families.

The New Year festival is centuries-old and well-known for its many myths, superstitions and customs. Traditionally, the festival is a time to honour deities and ancestors.

About 7,450 kilometres away, Chinese Australians are also ramping up their own celebrations.

According to the 2011 Australian Census, there is close to 900,000 people that claim Chinese ancestry living in Australia.

So, how do Chinese-Australians celebrate this major cultural festival?

Lunar New Year: A celebration of spirits, luck and fortune
As well as coming together to eat and share stories, thousands of Vietnamese families will be clearing their debts and putting the broom away come January 28, in a bid to secure good luck for the year ahead.

The millennial

For 24-year-old Malay-Chinese, Andre Wan, Chinese New Year is always commemorated with a family dinner. 

“We’ll have a family get-together, which will include my aunts and uncles that also live in Sydney,” Wan tells SBS. “We also have family in Melbourne, so they’ll usually join us for a Skype call as well.”

Wan says that he hopes to grow his knowledge about Chinese traditions and culture with each New Year Festival he celebrates with his family and relatives.

“I’ve lived in Australia all my life so I don’t know too much about the traditions but I do have a lot of interest in learning more about my Chinese heritage.

“I feel like unless you were born and raised in China, it’s very difficult to know about the mythological purposes behind the many traditions that exist.”

He says the best part of Chinese New Year is that it brings him back to his Asian roots and reminds him of his family culture.

“I’ve lived in Australia all my life so I don’t know too much about the traditions but I do have a lot of interest in learning more about my Chinese heritage.

“In a predominately Anglo-Saxon country, you probably do drift away a bit from Chinese culture so Chinese New Year really does serve as a reminder of what your family used to do and where your family’s from.”

The baby boomer

For Shanghai-born social worker Julie Sun, Chinese New Year is all about family and food.

“For me, the New Year Festival is about getting the family together as well as food – food is very important,” 61-year-old Sun says.

“We make sure that there is a bit of everything on the dinner table – especially spring rolls, fish and dumplings.”

Chinese custom dictates that eating fish, dumplings, nian gao (glutinous rice cake) and noodles during the New Year period will bring you good luck.

Despite being a first-generation Chinese immigrant, Sun views most of the traditions as “a bit of fun”, but they are not strictly followed in her household.

“I think it’s important to reunite with the family and honour the elders.  The main thing for me is to have everyone together, happy and eating lots of food.”

“For me, the New Year Festival is about getting the family together as well as food – food is very important.”

The generation Y-er

Conversely, 31-year-old Australian-Chinese Christina Li is an ardent follower of all the customs of the New Year Festival. 

Each year, Li will visit the temple to pay her respects to the deities, clean the house to sweep away any ill-fortune, decorate her home with the character “fú” (meaning good fortune) and buy new clothes to help her usher in the year ahead.

“I always take the day before Chinese New Year’s Eve off work to practice the traditions, such as cleaning the house and doing shopping to get ready for the big day,” Li says.

“When I do my New Year’s shopping, I’ll make sure I have enough red pockets and I’ll buy decorations symbolising fortune and prosperity for the house.

“I’ll also buy new clothes to wear for New Year’s Day as that brings in good luck.  I even buy new undergarments as well,” she says with a chuckle.  

The main thing for me is to have everyone together, happy and eating lots of food.

Li, who is born in Australia, says she feels closely connected with her Chinese heritage and has a good understanding of the meaning behind the various New Year customs, which she has picked up from her mother, her mother-in-law and through her own interests.

“These practices are entrenched in Chinese culture and have been practiced for so many thousands of years and I am connected to all of that.  It’s a part of my identity.

“For me, the start of the lunar year sets the tone for the rest of the year. I spend time reflecting on what I want to achieve and it just makes sense for me culturally.”

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @LinEvlin; Instagram @mycreativerefuge

 

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