10 Best Places to Celebrate Chinese New Year
While the Western world finishes the holiday season up on the first of January with a sigh, people who celebrate Chinese New Year have still got something to look forward to.
From the outside Chinese New Year looks like lion dances, boat races and colourful fireworks, but there's a lot more to the celebrations than that. And we're not just referring to the food, spending time with family or the party atmosphere that fills the streets like the red lantern-light. These are the 10 best places in the world to share in both the traditions and celebrations of Chinese New Year:
Hong Kong might consider itself barely a part of China - but when it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year its party is one of the world's loudest and liveliest. Events include a huge night parade around Tsim Sha Tusi East, with an international cast parading on traditional floats and in lion and dragon costumes, set to loud, excited percussion music, and an enormous fireworks display. Though there are other firework events, the main fireworks are held in Victoria Harbour on the second day of the three day New Year holiday - the festival lasts for 15 days. Before the fireworks start going off visitors might suspect that they'll hardly show up against the backdrop of flickering lights decorating the skyscrapers with seasonal messages and colours, but they do, and it's the sound of fireworks exploding that's key to the celebrations also, it's thought to scare away bad spirits and promote luck.
The more traditional side of the celebrations involve visiting temples, and wearing a lot of new clothes in the auspicious colour red, so there's frenzied shopping and a lot of bustling around town. Hong Kong holds a vast flower market (to celebrate spring), families share feasts of chicken and fish for good luck and prosperity and there are a range of round, sweet, traditional treats exchanged.
Singapore celebrates with so much enthusiasm that their events are some of the largest outside of China - and they get two days of Public Holiday (for the first two days of the new year) to make sure they can celebrate without holding back. Decoration go up, and Chinese style parades – complete with the essential lions, dragons and in 2010 tigers, and plenty of drumming – take place in major cities and towns, usually centring around the local Chinatown. Markets sprout up selling products specific to the New Year and fireworks finish each days festivities, but are especially jubilant for the first day, which is when most of the partying into the small hours takes place.
In the 1860's gold lured a lot of people to the San Francisco region, and a fair percentage of those prospectors were Chinese, so Chinese New Year has been celebrated round these parts for about a century and a half now – one of the longest running events outside of Asia. These days there are three major parts to the celebrations, which run for the entire two weeks, just like in China. The first two events are both fairs: the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and the Chinatown Community Street Fair, and the final event, at the culmination of the celebrations, is the Chinese New Year Parade – always referred to as 'one of the best outside of China'. Because it's at the end of the celebrations the 2010 parade will be on the 27th of Feb.
Each year they promise more than 100 different groups will participate – many with impressively decorated floats – including school marching bands, martial arts groups, lion dancers, traditional stilt walkers and acrobats. There's some melding of cultures as the arrival of the newly crowned Miss Chinatown is preceded by a 201 foot long Golden Dragon, manned by a team of 100 men and women. This impressive dragon was specially made in China and has been the star of many, many parades.
If you can't make it to the event you can usually watch it live on TV.
Who knows why Parisians enjoy Chinese New Year so much? Is it that they're looking for any excuse to dress their beautiful city up in colourful, yet elegant garb, and witness cheerful processions of dancers and musicians lead parades of dragons, lions and bright orange fish (a local speciality) through the streets of South Paris? Or are they just looking for an excuse for a fireworks display?
This year the parade begins around the Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall), and because it falls on Valentines Day many local Chinese restaurants, especially those in Chinatown - between Place d'Italie and the Porte de Choisy in the 13th arrondissement - are going to be three times as busy as usual.
What with the time difference it doesn't seem that much of a liberty for Helsinki to celebrate Chinese New Year on what's actually Chinese New Years Eve. Especially if you consider the length these Finns go to to mark the occasion despite the distance. Helsinki has arranged a special partnership with Beijing so that their even features ferocious battle scenes from the Beijing Opera, as well as traditional lion, dragon and butterfly dances. Around the main performance stage are set up Chinese Markets – sounds like a very nice way to taste Chinese culture.
In 2010 the New Year’s parade will be departing from the Railway Station at 1:45, to arrive at Lasipalatsi Square for the main festivities, and conclude with fireworks on the shore of Töölönlahti Bay at 6:20.
London's celebrating a week later than the rest of the world this year, their main even is taking place in Leicester Square on the 21st, when there will be an official opening ceremony followed by some cultural performances on a temporary outdoor stage and a parade. As well as the traditional lion and dragon dances and Chinese acrobatics, contemporary performers have been invited – the plan being to cash in on people's raised awareness of China lingering on from the Beijing Games. Shaftsbury Ave. on the other side of Chinatown will also be stopped with a stage where more traditional performances by local Chinese artists will go on – until the fireworks start in Leicester Square to close the formal celebrations and kick off the informal partying in Chinatown.
Sydney's Chinese expat community has thrived for about the last 150 years, so they've been Chinese New Year celebrations held here since then. Most of the action centres around Chinatown and the adjacent Darling Harbour area near the Chinese Garden of Friendship, where there are markets, food stalls and red and gold dragons decorating everything. The fact that it's a nice time of year to see an outdoor, twilight parade spectacular finished off with some fireworks, means that many events attract hundreds of thousands of people – lots of them families – some who appreciate the cultural and historic significance, and some who appreciate the colourful parade and party.
Like Sydney, L.A. has a large Chinese expat community, with more than a hundred years worth of Chinese New Year traditions of their own. The main event is the Golden Dragon Parade, which runs along North Broadway, L.A.'s Chinatown, and attracts more than a hundred thousand people out to line the route which even more people see it via live telecast. Sine the 80's the parade has added floats and marching bands to its retinue of dancing lions and dragons, to bring it more into line with other large scale American parades.
Celebrities and dignitaries attend and you can book seats in the grandstand if you're intent on not missing a minute, otherwise arrive early to pitch your position.
In Vietnam they have the same lunar new year celebrations, but instead it's called 'Tet' . The main celebrations last three or four days and families save money, store food and prepare a long way in advance so that they do Tet in style. The idea os to start the new year out right, with a clean, and maybe even painted house, new items in the wardrobe and a clean slate as far as debts are concerned. But there's also a lot of eating and drinking with family and friends to be done – so while the lead up might be austere, the events are generally generous on a scale that approaches the lavishness of other Chinese New Year celebrations.
It's a given that Beijing would celebrate Chinese New Year with aplomb – it's the most awaited festival of the year. Not only is it the time of year to be in the best of spirits, it's also a time for visiting friends and family – and augmenting the occasion with acrobatics if you know any. Kids are slipped 'lucky money' in red envelopes from adults, families clean house, people wear new clothes and feast on seasonal treats, but more importantly the ban has been lifted on fireworks displays so they're back with force – at designated times and places of course.
In northern China it's more televisions blaring over the click-clack of mah jong tiles and chomping on dumpings than the noise of pyrotechnics – so Beijing and the south is the place to be...
If your Chinese New Year celebrations were worth recommending please tell us all about them! Otherwise it's time to plan for next year...
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