Canadians across the country are invited to join the millions of people who celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Dog on February 16, 2018, with a variety of age-old traditions
It makes sense to start new beginnings with something you love, so when Jen Sookfong Lee wakes up on the morning of the Chinese New Year, she and her son “eat a piece of candy to ensure the coming year is sweet,” she says. “And we greet each other with Gung hay fat choy.”
In exchanging wishes for a prosperous new year – Gung hay fat choy in Cantonese and Gong xi fa cai in Mandarin – Lee joins the millions of people around the world who observe this important celebration, which is rooted in the lunisolar calendar.
Lee, an acclaimed Chinese-Canadian author who recently published a non-fiction book for young adults titled Chinese New Year, A Celebration for Everyone, believes that it is important to remember “that Chinese New Year is the celebration Chinese immigrants bring to almost every country in the world as a symbol of good will and inclusion,” she says. “Everyone is always invited to eat and have fun. It continues to be the way Chinese people communicate our culture to the other communities we find ourselves living with.”
Canadians with Chinese ancestry number more than 1.8 million. In Vancouver, B.C., the multicultural hub with the highest concentration of Chinese Canadians, one in five residents has Chinese roots. In this community, where Lee grew up and lives with her family, signs of Chinese culture are abundant, and Chinese New Year celebrations include the popular Chinatown parade, which returns this year for the 45th time. It attracts about 100,000 spectators, who come to see 70-odd entries with 3,000 participants representing a variety of community and cultural groups, including the largest assembly of traditional lion dance teams in Canada.
All Canadians are welcome to join Chinese New Year festivities, Lee says. “First of all, we get to celebrate much more if we participate in other cultural events. Secondly, the reality is that diversity is what Canada has become, and celebrating the cultures that contribute to our social fabric is celebrating what Canada is.”
Communities differ in many ways, but at the core of every culture are the desires for happiness, health and freedom, believes Lee. “Every cultural tradition comes from one or more of those desires. And the deeper we understand others, the more we see that our core values, as humans, are really the same.”
Laden with much symbolism and meaning, many Chinese New Year traditions aim to bring people – families, friends, community members – together. For Lee (and for many others), “it’s all about the food,” she says. “My mother usually had a huge breakfast ready for us by the time we woke up (fried noodles, soup, dumplings, oranges).”
Lee says this doesn’t happen at her house since she’s not a morning person, but she cherishes the traditional New Year’s family gathering. “I love the candy and dumplings, but the best part is the big multi-course dinner that my sisters and I all help to cook,” she says. “There is never any possibility that we will finish the huge amounts of food, but the act of sitting down and eating the dishes that we have worked so hard to prepare is, on its own, a beautiful thing.”
Embracing different cultures can enrich lives and society, suggests Lee. “When we amplify what makes our communities unique, this brings greater depth to our understanding of humanity and makes Canada as a country a true global participant.”
More about Jen Sookfong Lee at www.sookfong.com /
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