Hopping back into action: Lunar New Year celebrations return to N.L. for the Year of the Rabbit

The lion dance, pictured here in 2019, is one of the many festivities being brought back for this year's Lunar New Year celebration in St. John's.  (Paul Daly/CBC - image credit)
The lion dance, pictured here in 2019, is one of the many festivities being brought back for this year's Lunar New Year celebration in St. John's. (Paul Daly/CBC - image credit)
Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

After a pandemic hiatus, one of the Asian community's biggest celebrations is returning to St. John's.

"We wanted to open this up so that we can welcome everybody back and help us celebrate the first Lunar New Year we've celebrated in this community since 2020," says Tzu-Hao Hsu, former president of the Chinese Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The festivities will be held on January 29th at the St. John's Farmers' Market, with lively traditional performances, family-friendly activities and an array of food from Loong Wah Restaurant.

2023 is the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese zodiac, which is based on the lunar calendar and assigns each year one of 12 animals on a rotating basis. People born in those years are said to receive a series of traits in accordance with their animal. Hsu said those born in the Year of the Rabbit are known to be gentle.

"They are kind, patient, skilful and responsible people," said Hsu.

"And having a younger brother who is a Rabbit, I can attest that all of these things are correct."

Paula Gale/CBC
Paula Gale/CBC

While Canada and other western countries only celebrate the new year for one day, the Lunar New Year tradition in some Asian countries sees the new year celebrated for a 15-day period.

"Jan. 22 is your first day and then the 15 days following that have a daily tradition you can observe or perform."

Hsu said the first day of the Lunar New Year is traditionally focused on family, while each following day sees a celebration with a different group of people in your life.

Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

"There are days designated for you to visit the graves of your ancestors to give thanks for the blessings that they've given through the year. There are days put aside for your colleagues, coworkers, everyone. It's a celebration that starts with your core family and blooms into your community," she said.

Food plays a key role in the events as well.

"You can't have Lunar New Year without delicious food and different dishes that have symbolic meanings," said Hsu. "Also, they're just tasty."

Camille Liao, a math student at Memorial University who's involved with the Farmers' Market event, agrees that food is a major aspect of the festivities. Liao is originally from Hubei in central China and while celebrations look a little different in Newfoundland, she fondly remembers all the good times with family back home.

"When I was in China, we usually celebrate the Chinese New Year by going to my dad's parents' house for lunch and then we go to my mom's side of the family for dinner," Liao said.

Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

While much of her family is still in China, Liao does have an aunt in St. John's, which means she gets to be on the receiving end of one of her favourite traditions: red pockets, a special seasonal envelope stuffed with cash.

And not living at home has its benefits in that regard.

"Back in China, the red pockets are not my pocket money. They all went to my mom's pocket," she said.

Now, Liao can keep the money for herself.

Hsu said the season always carries a sense of excitement, but the feeling is doubled this year with the return of in-person celebrations.

"I really missed being able to come out and see everybody else's happy faces, and exchange stories, and see how their years are going. And, frankly, watching each others' children grow up. I mean, the last time I celebrated with my community at large I was pregnant, and now my children are three-and-a-half-years-old," she said.

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