Chinese New Year in Canada

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, is celebrated in Canada, as it is in many countries. Chinese New Year is not a national holiday in Canada, but some Chinese businesses may close or curtail their hours on that day. It is a vibrant celebration for Canada's large CHINESE population of more than 1.3 million, as well as for Korean, Vietnames and East Asian populations and others who enjoy the rich and dynamic cultural display.

It marks the first day of the New Year in the Chinese calendar, which predates the Gregorian calendar. It is a lunisolar calendar, based on the astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and the phases of the moon. The beginning of the new year is calculated by determining the new moon closest to the beginning of spring, Lìchūn, in the northern hemisphere. Chinese New Year will always fall between January 21 and February 21. If Lìch?n occurs midway between two new moons, the calculation will fail and must be reconsidered. Most of the time Chinese New Year will fall 11 (or sometimes 10 or 12) days earlier than the previous year, but if that means that the event would be outside of the Chinese New Year range of January 21 to February 21, a leap month must be added so Chinese New Year is 19 or 18 days later.

History of the Chinese in Canada

The first Chinese to settle in Canada were 50 artisans who accompanied Captain John MEARES in 1788 to help build a trading post and encourage trade in sea otter pelts between Guangzhou, China and NOOTKA SOUND. The Spanish, who were seeking a trade monopoly on the West Coast, drove Captain Meares out, leaving many of the Chinese to settle in the area. Some married Aboriginal women.In 1858, Chinese immigrants began arriving from San Francisco as gold prospectors in the Fraser River valley, and BARKERVILLE, BC, became Canada's first Chinese community. By 1860 the Chinese population of BC was approximately 7000. Many of the first Chinese migrants were young peasants from South China, brought to Canada to build the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY. Chinese communities developed across the country, mainly due to the trans-national railway. Today, the Chinese are the third largest ethnic group in Canada, after the English and French.

Symbols of Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year has several symbols, such as flowers, which are an important part of New Year decorations. Homes and businesses often display writings that refer to good luck, which are usually written by brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper. Tangerines and oranges are also displayed in many homes and stores as a sign of luck and wealth.

Celebrations and Traditions

The lunar new year is a time to share food with the less fortunate and participate in other charitable activities. Celebrations may last for several days and include various activities such as parades and festivals featuring dancing, drumming and traditional Chinese dress, fireworks displays, special meals, and arts and crafts. Parades are a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations and feature the famous lion dancers, who perform one behind the other, with the first person bearing a large mask as the head and one or more people following behind carrying the lion's body above them. The dance, which varies by region, is vigorous, with the colourful lion creature prancing, tossing and shaking its head, stopping to scratch or perform other leonine activities.

The lion portrayed in parades has a colourful and complex mythology whose exact origins have been lost over the many centuries of its existence, dating back to the Han Dynasty (c. 205 BCE to 220 CE). Among the stories that explain the lion is that of Nian, a horrible monster that lives underwater or in the mountains and terrorised Chinese villagers year after year, attacking and devouring people - preferring children - at the onset of spring, around the beginning of the new year. One year, a lion defeated the monster and chased it away. Nian vowed to return the following year, at which time the villagers, having no lion to protect them, cooperated to drive back the monster by creating a lion costume to be worn by two villagers. The monster was known to be sensitive to loud noises and to the colour red. As the story goes, when the beast came to the village and began causing chaos, the costumed villagers scared Nian while villagers wearing red banged pots and pans and threw firecrackers. It worked, and the beast was pushed back. The colour red, drumming and fireworks figure prominently in New Year festivals because they're believed to ward off Nian.

Families spend time together and exchange gifts, particularly red envelopes containing money (Hong Bao, Ang Pao, or Lai See), which are normally given to children. The colour red symbolizes happiness, good luck, success and good fortune. Each year of the Chinese lunar calendar is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. The New Year bids farewell to one animal and welcomes the next. For example, 2011 was the Year of the Rabbit and 2012 the Year of the Dragon.

In Canada, the post office began issuing stamps for the Chinese New Year in 1997. Beginning in 1999, two different values were issued, one for domestic first class mail and the other for international mail. The latter is issued as a souvenir sheet as well. Each animal has particular characteristics; for example, the rabbit is known to be talented and affectionate, but shy, works well with people and does well in business. Dragons are purported to be passionate and soft-hearted, but stubborn, healthy and energetic.