Some of us may have celebrated the New Year over a month ago, but for cultures who follow the Lunar New Year, this time of year holds significant meaning and prosperity for the year ahead. This week, about 1.5 billion people around the world are getting ready to ring in the Year of the Pig, one of the twelve animal zodiacs which is celebrated in many asian cultures. The Lunar New Year is celebrated in thousands of different communities across the globe, including China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Nepal to name a few. But here in Australia, especially as a multicultural nation, we have so many different and diverse ways of celebrating amongst our neighbours. Did you know we are home to the largest New Year celebrations outside of Asia? Here are our top picks for how to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Sydney.
Visit The Twelve Zodiacs
When: Every day, Friday 1 February to Sunday 10 February.
Lunar lanterns are a traditional part of new year celebrations, and here in Australia is no different. Dotted around Circular Quay, twelve animal zodiacs light up the paths to create a walking journey from the Sydney Opera House to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with both icons illuminated a bright red on the first day of the New Year. Each zodiac has been created by an artist of Asian-Australian background, highlighting the talent of our multicultural community. Forging a centuries-old tradition with a now technological and contemporary take, these lunar lanterns are huge in stature and make for the perfect photo opportunity. Plus, it’s always fun to find out which zodiac animal you correspond with! Simply look for a zodiac birthday chart and see which animal calls you its own. For me, I’m a rat, which isn’t the most fabulous sounding animal, but the rat zodiac lantern totally changed my mind on this!
When: Every day, Friday 1 February to Sunday 10 February.
Chinatown is nestled in the heart of Sydney’s CBD and is a popular location for authentic food and dining experiences. When the Lunar New Year rolls around, the town becomes a hot spot of cultural activity, celebration and performance. Every Friday to Sunday from 6pm, traditional lion dances and drummers will take to the streets to greet revellers and bring luck to those who see them. Visit the nearby Chinese Garden of Friendship to gain an insight into Chinese heritage and culture with performances, demonstrations, lion dances and workshops. There will be so much going on in Chinatown no matter what time of day you visit, so get amongst the celebrations and enjoy some of the local cuisine on offer.
Dragon Boat Races
When: Saturday 9 February and Sunday 10 February.
The biggest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere, Darling Harbour’s iconic Dragon Boat Races will be making waves again to celebrate the Year of the Pig. To ensure a safe weekend of dragon boat racing, Taoist monks perform a blessing of the waters, including a unique eye dotting ceremony which sees them dabbing red paint onto the eyes of each boat’s figurehead, which is said to awaken the dragons. With over 3,000 paddlers taking to the water, the Dragon Boat Races are a major part of celebrations and tradition.
When: Saturday 9 February to Sunday 3 February, 5pm to 9pm
Performances from a wide array of cultural groups will take to the stage in First Fleet Park at Circular Quay to wow audiences with music, dance, drumming, arts and theatre. Almost 50 groups will be representing Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Indonesian communities through their performance. Many of the groups have travelled far and wide to be part of the Lunar New Year program to share their culture with the audience. A fusion of traditional dance and costume will meet modern day trends to create a diverse show of colour, fun, flair and culture. Performers as far as China have also come on board to help ring in celebrations. Artists from the Guizhou Song and Dance Theatre and Guizhou Performance and Arts Group from China’s Guizhou province will share traditional folk dancing, acrobatics and a lusheng performance, a musical instrument with multiple bamboo pipes. Indigenous music including the famed Kam Big Song, will also be performed and is regarded as the melody from heaven. And the best part of all is that it’s free to watch! Plus if you’re lucky, you might receive some red envelopes too.
Learn The Art of Calligraphy
When: Tuesday 5 February. From 12pm to 2pm.
Watch a demonstration by master calligraphy artists and take home a small handwritten souvenir all in your lunch break! Chinese calligraphy is an expressive form of visual poetry which holds a valuable place in the heart of Chinese culture. Artists from the Australian Chinese Artists’ Society will beautifully compose the characters of Chinese calligraphy for you to watch and learn from. Each master artist will be creating a small token souvenir for you to take with you in the New Year. The free demonstration is for all to enjoy at either Customs House Library or Green Square Library.
Discover Chinese Paper Cutting
When: Sunday 17 February. Two workshops from 11am to 1pm, and 2pm to 4pm.
Delve into the traditional art of Chinese paper cutting with award-winning multimedia artist Tianli Zu. Join Tianli and the team from the University of Sydney Confucius Institute and the Australian National Maritime Museum as they explain the meaning behind the symbolic patterns, and guide you through how to fold and cut whilst examining positive and negative space. No artistic experience needed, and you’ll be able to take home your creation once you’ve finished! This free workshop is available at the beautiful National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.
Eat All Of The Food
From: any time, anywhere!
To bring in luck, good health and prosperity, there are certain dishes you’ll need to eat (hard job, really). Some of the cuisine you may be used to, but others are a new adventure awaiting your tastebuds. Have a crack at trying to cook some of the recipes yourself, or book in to your local Asian eatery to see what they recommend! Of course, many restaurants offer special dishes across the Lunar New Year, so be sure to do your research. Here’s some of the traditional foods which play a major role when it comes to celebrating in delicious style:
- Spring rolls – as common as they are nowadays, spring rolls were once gifted from Chinese emperors to other official members of society during the Spring Festival.
- Dumplings – again, an easy one to get your hands on. But did you know the word dumpling in Chinese language sounds extremely similar to the term “exchange between the old and new year”, hence why they’re important to eat. During the New Year, dumplings should be wrapped at midnight to farewell the year. By eating dumplings, you are sending away the old and welcoming the new.
- Noodles – no matter the dish, the noodles you eat during the New Year period need to be long. Very long. You shouldn’t chew through your noodles either. Tradition says, the longer the noodle you eat, the longer your life.
- Fish – if you’re wishing for good fortune and money in the year ahead, then this is the food for you. The word ‘fish’ sounds similar to the word ‘surplus’ in Chinese language. Half of the fish should be eaten for dinner, and the second half the next day. This is to prolong the surplus and make the future prosperous as well. A whole fish also represents a harmonious and whole family.
- Nian gao – also known as rice cakes or New Year cakes, nian gao were once only used only as offerings to the ancestors and gods in ancient times. Now, they are a vital delicacy for any New Year event. Because of its similar pronunciation with the word ‘high’, eating nian gao is often associated with a wish to be successful and “higher” each year. Every year will be better than the last.