Chinese New Year is the most important holiday on the Chinese lunar calendar – and because of its vibrant public events, we can join in on the fun as well! In 2016 it’s on February 8, but the celebrations start on February 7, or New Year’s Eve, and can go through February 22, known as the Lantern Festival. So let’s take a look at where you can enjoy ringing in the Year of the Monkey with locals!
Obviously, there’s no better place to celebrate the Chinese New Year than China. But it should be noted that the first three days of celebrations are centered around family and home, with the first day featuring a long family dinner; the second day everyone visits each other’s homes, and the third day people stay home (to ward off the superstition of the “red mouth,” which brings on fighting and cross words).
After that, though, the sky’s the limit – literally! Fireworks were invented by the Chinese, and it’s never more apparent than when you see the spectacular shows put on by even the smallest villages. Beijing is the standard bearer, with incredible shows that feature an almost alarming number of explosives – people come from around the country to see them.
While Beijing is fun, it’s more about the traditions of the lunar New Year, while in Shanghai it’s all about partying! The Bund, where the main fireworks shows are held, is also the location of many of the places where everyone comes together to toast the new year and have fun.
Taiwan is a great option for regional Chinese New Year celebrations outside of mainland China. In addition to the traditional festivities like fireworks, Dragon Dances and the Lantern Festival, there are two events unique to Taiwan that you won’t want to miss.
The first is the Bombarding Master Handan Festival in Taitung, in which a man in red shorts represents the god of wealth and is carried through the crowd. Festival goers throw (non-lethal) firecrackers at the “god,” and pray for wealth in the coming year. The other is the Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival in Tainan, which takes place on day two of the Chinese Lantern Festival. The “beehives” are enormous bottle rocket structures that when lit, ward off bad luck. It’s probably the noisiest celebration on the planet, so bring your earplugs!
A more modern celebration with international flavor happens in Hong Kong. You’ll still get plenty of the traditions, but there’s also weeks of events that are uniquely Hong Kong. To wit, there’s a theme to each year’s events; for 2016, it’s “Playground of the World. Party of the Year.” The nightly theme parades feature high-tech floats and entertainment brought in from around the world. Then there’s a horse race, a charity carnival with rides and games, flower and food markets, and theWishing Festival at Lam Tsuen Wishing Square, where visitors write down their wishes and toss them on ribbons onto a ceremonial tree.
Singapore is a cosmopolitan city-state with a multicultural flair, which makes it another fantastic choice for Chinese New Year celebrations in Asia. The bulk of the events are in Singapore’s Chinatown, with street fairs, carnivals, concerts at New Bridge Road, and even walking tours (in English!) of the neighborhood from Kreta Ayer Square. And don’t miss the Chingay Parade, which brings all of the city’s cultures into the arms of the Chinese tradition. But with Singapore being roughly 75 percent Chinese, you can be sure to experience the sounds and sights of the holiday no matter where you are in the city.
The Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur has a lively Chinatown; your starting point is Petaling Street. It’s a massively popular destination in its own right, and of course during the Chinese New Year it’s bursting at the seams with celebration. When it comes to the traditional fireworks displays, though, head over to the iconic Petronas Towers, which serve as the backdrop for a stunning show that lights up the sky! Throughout the holiday season there are also fireworks shows at Independence Square, Sunway Pyramid, and other locations.
Sydney’s celebrations are not only for the almost 10 percent of the population who are Chinese, but for all the city’s residents. Throughout the month there is a full calendar of events for every interest, from family-friendly to black-tie. But of particular note here is the food! First, there are the nighttime Lunar Markets off Pirrama Road. It’s a pop-up food festival that will get foodies salivating. During the day, you can learn how to play mahjong over a delicious dim sum lunch at the Mahjong Room on Crown Street. Eat like an emperor at the Fire Red Monkey Banquet in Chinatown. Or take part in a traditional tea ceremony at the Zensation Tea House!
As you would expect, New York City does it up big for the Chinese New Year – there’s 6,000 people in the parade itself! The festivities center around the city’s famous Chinatown district, which includes a fantastic firecracker ceremony and cultural festival in Sara D. Roosevelt Park. But the streets of Chinatown are all but closed off to allow for a party atmosphere, with insanely good food, lots of red decorations, and spontaneous performances. At the end of the month the party moves to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where the Lantern Festival is celebrated by the borough’s Chinese residents – and everyone gets in on the fun!
In addition to lion and dragon dances in three locations throughout the city and spectacular fireworks displays in the evening, Melbourne’s Chinese New Year celebrations focus on the city’s Chinese culture. Chinatown’s historic buildings are put on display with wonderful lighting; the Chinese Museum will have an open house day on February 14; Chinatown Square will have a nightly open-air cinema showing short films; and martial arts and lion dance lessons will be given to kids at the Uniting Church on Lonsdale Street. There’s also plenty of food offerings, and Box Hill will be the focal point for the big parade.
Chinese New Year festivities in Auckland will be a bit different in 2016, as the lunar calendar dates coincide with Waitangi Day weekend and Auckland Anniversary, big dates on the city’s calendar. So the annual Chinese New Year Festival and Market Day, which is how Auckland traditionally celebrates the Chinese New Year, will be Saturday, January 23! It’s a major celebration bringing thousands to the ASB Showgrounds, and will feature a traditional Dragon Dance, lots of traditional delicacies, performances, and kids’ rides and games – all for free. The Lantern Festival’s dates will not be changed, however, so from February 18-21 will see yet another fantastic celebration to end the New Year holiday.
It may surprise you to know that London’s Chinese New Year celebrations are one of the biggest outside China! Chinatown pulls out all the stops for this massive event, with a parade along Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue on February 14 and fantastic performances (and official events) on Trafalgar Square. Chinatown’s restaurants are jam-packed from February 8-15 as people feast on dumplings and other delicacies, and shoppers crowd the stores to purchase something red for good luck in the new year. Start at Shaftesbury Avenue to visit the street fair, but come early; the city’s expecting about 300,000 revelers.
With such a rich history of Chinese cultural influence, you can bet that San Francisco is an important city in the West to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The city’s celebrations actually fall towards the end of the holiday, although for the entire month will be a party atmosphere in this world-famous Chinatown. The highlight is the early evening parade, this year on February 20, featuring a 100-person Golden Dragon and scores of performances, floats, dancers and more! Over that same weekend there’s also a community fair on Grant Avenue with cultural activities, and the black-tie Miss Chinatown USA coronation ball.
While many Western cities make their Chinatown the focal point for Chinese New Year celebrations, during February you’ll see the entire city of Chicago celebrating Chinese culture and heritage. From free family-friendly activities at the Art Institute and an exhibition at the Field Museum to a Lantern Festival at Navy Pier, concerts at the Symphony Center, dance performance at the Reva & David Logan Center and more, everywhere you look you’ll be reminded of the Year of the Monkey! Even Macy’s is giving over their window displays to the holiday. The holiday kickoff will take place at the Chicago Cultural Center on February 8; the parade on Argyle Street is on February 13; and throughout the month; and Chicago’s Chinatown restaurants will be packed with foodies eating traditional feasts.
– Contributed by Christine Cantera