By HEATHER STANLEY
“Xin nian kuai le,” or as we say in English, happy new year!
On Feb. 19, the Chinese New Year began. Also known as Spring Festival, it is an important tradition for families in China, but is an event that is also celebrated around the world. The festival runs for 15 days and goes back more than 4,000 years.
The date of the new year depends on the lunar calendar. However, it always falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The calendar is associated with the Chinese zodiac, which is comprised of 12 animals. Each year the animal changes. 2015 marks the Year of the Ram.
In Kitchener-Waterloo, celebrations started early. The Central Ontario Chinese Cultural Centre hosted a small festival at Forbes Hall in Rim Park, Waterloo on Feb. 7. The event was free for people of all ethnicities and was centred around the Chinese culture. The hall featured a slew of exhibits including various arts and crafts tables, books, poster board displays, plants and traditional food.
Nigel Saunders, president of the KW Bonsai Society, which was one of the vendors at the event, talked about bonsai trees. According to Wikipedia, bonsai “is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers.” The art dates back over a thousand years.
“This is our second year we’ve been here now,” Saunders said. “We were at the festival last year and we just come and promote our club. It’s a great place to be.”
Saunders said bonsai trees can live for hundreds of years just like any other full size tree.
Also featured were traditional dances such as a lion dance, food and the colour red, which is associated with good luck. Luck is one of the themes for every Chinese new year. The Chinese believe that what you do at the start of a year will affect your luck in the coming year. There are also many taboos during the festival. If a person does these, they are said to wash away good luck.
Some of these include washing your hair on the first day of the year, breaking dishes, using scissors or knives, wearing black or white clothes, the number four and a baby crying among others. In contrast, wearing red, letting off firecrackers, giving out red packets of money and eating lucky food such as fish will help bring good luck.
“I’m not superstitious,” said Saunders when asked if he believed in the taboos.
“It’s different this year,” said Ming Guo, a parent of a child participating in the event. “Last year they set up tables and people had lunch to celebrate. This year it was more like an event. There were a lot of tables and stations.”
Guo said the K-W Chinese School has a choir that performed each year. This year they sang three songs.
“It’s an event for everyone,” Guo said. “You can just drop in and have fun. It’s different.”
Although no one knows for sure how the festival began, one story says it was created out of fear of a mythical creature who preyed on villagers. This creature’s name was Nian, which is the Chinese word for “year.” Nian is said to be an animal with a lion’s head. All stories include a wise old man who tells villagers how to get rid of the evil creature by making loud noises and hanging red paper cut-outs and scrolls on doors because Nian is scared of the colour red.
This year’s festival will end on March 5.
By HEATHER STANLEY