This year, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, begins on January 23rd. This holiday is very similar to how the Western culture celebrates Christmas, and is a time for families to get together, share hearty meals and exchange gifts.
Instead of toys and clothing, the older generation gives the younger generation bright red envelopes filled with new money. The bills are usually crisp and unwrinkled, a sign of respect for the recipient.
“As a child, once I received the red envelope, I would spend the money on candies, firecrackers and Chinese lanterns,” said Kevin Fan, the executive director of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural Centre (WCCC).
Chinese couplets are also hung on doorways. “Back 200 to 300 years ago, not many people knew how to write Chinese characters. What they usually did was go to the market, find someone who would write these characters, and ask them to write something on a red piece of paper,” said Fan. These red papers were displayed to wish happiness for the family in the upcoming year.
For the New Year, many families hang Chinese lanterns in their homes. This tradition also dates back to the same era. When men and women would travel away from their hometowns for work and school, they would return for the Chinese New Year and the candle inside was meant to lead their way back home. Fan said, “It’s not only for decoration, but also lets people know: here’s your home, please come back, we’re waiting for you.”
Winnipeg families observe many of these oriental customs, and have adapted new ones that are more fitting for the smaller Chinese community in the city.
“My dad always says that Chinese New Year in Cambodia is much more extravagant than it is here. In Winnipeg, there’s a whole bunch of other races that don’t really celebrate it,” said Cindy Chan, who regularly spends the New Year with her immediate family at home. “My family’s pretty laid back, we don’t have any strict traditions or rules. We pray with the ancestors, get money and just hang out.”
Although most families choose to spend the New Year amongst their loved ones, the WCCC also offers three public events for the community to attend.
The first event is on January 21st at The Forks Market. At 2 p.m., there will be a two-hour performance including the lion dance, Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi, folk dance and a singing performance accompanied by traditional instruments. There will also be a cooking demonstration sampling Kung Pao chicken.
The second event will be at the WCCC at 180 King St. on January 28th. Some of the same performers will be attending the event, as well as a Chinese choir. They will be serving cake, tea and light refreshments.
The third event is the Chinese New Year banquet on January 24th at Kum Koon Garden. Every year, the WCCC and the Downtown Winnipeg Biz host a competition to find a design for the Chinatown banner. The winner is announced at the banquet.
“Every year, we receive 50 to 60 designs,” said Fan. Whoever comes out on top will have their artwork posted all around Chinatown and receives a cash prize.
During the banquet, the City of Winnipeg presents services awards to the Chinese community for committed volunteers who have helped make Winnipeg a better place. Mayor Sam Katz will be presenting the awards to the recipients, who have previously included university professors, group leaders and community volunteers.