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How to celebrate Chinese New Year 2014 in Toronto

Posted by Darren "DKLo" Susilo / January 24, 2014

Chinese New Year TorontoChinese New Year (CNY) is upon us once more. Despite the seemingly high degree of publicity it gets here in our beloved Greater Toronto Area, it still pales in comparison to some of the other larger metropolitan areas around the world, like Singapore, where you better hope that you stocked up on groceries before the event hits, lest you end up staring at closed signs throughout the city. Then again, this isn't Asia. I get it. But I still want to be able to get my BBQ pork at T&T during the new year period.

Despite the increased exposure it now enjoys, the whole rigmarole surrounding Chinese New Year is still often not completely understood by many. What's with the tacky red decorations? What's up with those red packets? Does everyone eat out? Will Tom Brady ever win the Super Bowl again? Fear not, I'm here to help you navigate some of the basics of CNY.

While regional differences do exist between overseas Chinese communities, in this post I will just outline some of the common denominators that most of these groups have (which is what you will most likely see in the GTA).

Here's a quick guide on how to celebrate Chinese New Year in Toronto.

THE DECORATIONS

There seems to be an unwritten rule among Chinese households and businesses to put as many tacky-looking red stickers up when CNY rolls around. Each of these decorations, much like the rest of Chinese culture, have their own specific meanings, which usually have something to do with prosperity, luck, or happiness in the new year. They're usually joined by garish pictures or cartoony depictions of an animal signifying what year it is (the coming year is the year of the horse.)

The colours also have meaning. Red symbolizes luck and happiness (which is also why you'll see a lot of red at Chinese weddings), while the gold represents...well...gold, which is another way of saying monetary fortune or wealth. If you want to be really authentic, hang any 福 (fu = meaning luck) signs you come across upside down. It's meant to signify that luck is arriving since the word for upside down in Chinese is a homonym for the word to arrive.

WHERE TO GET THEM

Chinatown is teeming with small stores that sell these, as are many Asian supermarkets. It's also almost a slam dunk to find them at any of the T&T Supermarket locations, but if a less chaotic browsing atmosphere is what you're after, go out of the downtown core and to little mom & pop shops inside malls like Pacific Mall or the delightfully ugly New Kennedy Square. Each decoration shouldn't cost more than a few bucks, but you can get really big and/or ornate ones for close to $20.

RED ENVELOPES

The most well-recognized symbol of CNY, the red envelopes (known as hongbao in Mandarin or laisee in Cantonese) are given by married couples to single people, but especially children. In order to receive these, the children would need to respectfully wish the seniors a happy new year and also wish them luck, prosperity, and all that other good stuff. This is all worth it because of what's inside: moolah.

The colour is almost always red but occasionally I've seen gold ones. When you put money in them, there's also a saying among certain circles not to give amounts in multiples of four (i.e. $40) as the Chinese word for four is a homonym for the word death. So whatever you do, do NOT give $44 because ain't nobody got time for that.

WHERE TO GET THEM

Along with those previously-mentioned Chinese stores and supermarkets, many banks actually give them out if you request them (alas, with no money inside). You will also find blank red envelopes given out as gifts in many Asian snacks too (such as the ever-popular Hello Panda cookie snacks, ubiquitous in Asian supermarkets).

THE FOOD

Chinese New Year is synonymous with good food and good times with family and friends, not unlike a giant New Year's/Thanksgiving celebration. Fortunately, there are many restaurants that excel in this, and many of them have their own special CNY menus that (usually) serve 10 people or more. Make sure you order a fish dish, as the Chinese word for it is a homonym for abundance.

WHERE TO EAT

Some of my favourite restaurants for CNY are listed below. Please note that the special menu is usually not posted until very close to the actual New Year's date itself. The regular menu items are usually still available too, giving you plenty to choose from.

Asian Legend
This large restaurant chain has always been a staple for my family and has locations downtown as well as in the suburbs. They have a multitude of special set menus for CNY, such as the Spring Happiness Set Menu, good for 8 people ($228) which covers everything from Peking Duck to steamed fish. If you wish for a feast fit for a king, you can go all the way up to the gargantuan Royalty Dinner, which has a 5 pound lobster as part of its opulence ($498).

Gourmet Malaysia
This large family restaurant is the perfect place to try out Yu Sheng, a fish-and-vegetable salad which is a CNY tradition in South East Asia among the Chinese immigrants. Many of their special menus will incorporate this dish, along with their staple dishes like laksa and curry, offering you a wonderfully unique CNY experience not unlike what you would get in Singapore or Malaysia.

Chung King
Home to one of the best Peking Ducks in town, this restaurant at the back parking lot of Pacific Mall is always rammed with visitors during the CNY period. They also usually have some special menu items, but make sure you try their crispy beef along with the aforementioned duck from the regular menu. Absolute perfection.

ENTERTAINMENT

There's always oodles of visually striking performances when CNY rolls into town. Many places have the traditional lion dance show, meant to bring good fortune to usher in the new year, while others have a cornucopia of variety acts such as martial arts demonstrations or Chinese astrology predictions. After covering your house with CNY decorations, receiving your red envelopes, and enjoying your large meal, make sure to check out many of this year's exciting performances. Here is a small sampling of where you can go catch all the hoopla.

Royal Ontario Museum (FREE with admission)
The ROM offers a range of interesting activities on January 25th (a full week before the actual CNY date), with Chinese musical performances, Tai Chi demonstrations, a lion dance, and even a Chinese tea tasting ceremony. Activities start at noon.

Chinatown (FREE)
Starting at noon at Chinatown Centre and Dragon City Mall, you can catch lion dances, martial arts demonstrations, and Chinese opera at both locations on February 1. The Toronto Zoo will also make a special presentation, meaning you may catch a Panda Mascot sighting.

Pacific Mall (FREE)
This shopping centre for all things Asian has performances on various days, starting from a real-time New Year's Eve countdown party at 10 pm on January 30, a full-blown celebration festival on 2:30 pm on January 31, and the always popular lion dance performances going from store to store within the mall on February 8 at 12:30 pm.

How to you like to celebrate CNY? Add your suggestions to the comments below.

Writing by Darren "DKLo" Susilo. He hangs out on the twitter and his own mansion.

Discussion

18 Comments

Becca / January 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm
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Any thoughts for a nicer/higher end Chinese New Year celebration? The restaurants you mention are pretty chain/mall. Anything doing at Lai Wah Heen or similarly nice restaurants?
Foo / January 24, 2014 at 12:10 pm
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Interesting article. It'd probably work better if you didn't constantly refer to things as tacky and garish. Have some respect, yo!
lesleyparlafitt / January 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm
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I'm going to this on Monday Feb 3rd. So excited!!

http://tso.ca/en-ca/Concerts-And-Tickets/Events/2013-2014-Season/The-Year-of-the-Horse.aspx
Jenny / January 24, 2014 at 03:54 pm
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It's Lunar New Year, not Chinese New Year.Other cultures celebrate this occasion as well.
Jack / January 26, 2014 at 08:09 am
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In a city as multicultural as Toronto, I find people who still cal it "Chinese New Year" are either ignorant or do it on purpose. Either way, it's insulting to those who aren't Chinese who celebrate this holiday.
WW replying to a comment from Jack / January 26, 2014 at 11:15 am
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political correctness gone too far, much?
i believe the article IS meant to talk about chinese new year. look it up on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year
surprise surprise, that's ACTUALLY what it's called. the lunar new year is a composite term and i don't think the author was trying to talk about the other ones (maybe because he's not familiar with it?)
chill pill.
A / January 27, 2014 at 03:55 pm
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I have heard many, many Chinese people refer to it as Chinese New Year. I do not think it is nearly as offensive, or ignorant, as you are suggesting.
Mike / January 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm
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Why are you calling these decorations tacky? Doesn't help to disrespect a cultural holiday that you obviously know nothing about and to offend your readers.
KC replying to a comment from Mike / January 30, 2014 at 04:05 pm
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Because they ARE tacky. And I'm Chinese. And not offended.
KC replying to a comment from Jenny / January 30, 2014 at 04:10 pm
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Sure, but he's writing specifically about Chinese New Year celebrations. Not Vietnamese New Year. Not Korean New Year. Not Japanese New Year. Yeesh.
DKLo replying to a comment from Mike / January 30, 2014 at 04:43 pm
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I AM Chinese, Mike. I grew up celebrating CNY.
And I was making an ironic, self-referential joke.
Kat / January 30, 2014 at 09:28 pm
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I have celebrated many CNY's over the years, and I believe this article captures the essence of CNY and is very informative. Obviously the writer has a great deal of knowledge on the matter.
Sue / January 31, 2014 at 03:27 pm
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Wow. Really shocked. Please respect the culture.

Here is one of our fav Chinese Buffets.

http://www.dragonpearlbuffet.com/
Toronto Rocks / January 31, 2014 at 04:27 pm
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Rol San rocks...Flavour is a BIT better at Asian Legend but Rol San kicks butt in portion size and taste over all!
Lise Levesque / January 31, 2014 at 08:47 pm
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Thanks to whoever put this information together. I spent some time in China, last year and since then all things (Asian)draw me. I`ve been invited to visit a Chinese family tomorrow. It`s not for a meal so I was thinking of bringing Chinese candied fruit. I hope it`s appropriate.
George replying to a comment from Foo / February 2, 2014 at 03:00 pm
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Yes , you're right! and only mention T & T , there are many more places and better than T & T
George replying to a comment from Foo / February 2, 2014 at 03:04 pm
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Yes David Chong is right Commenting on this post on Facebook, that Toronto has the BEST Dim Sum in all of North America , and the most authentic.
For those in search of very good Authentic Chinese food. Try T&T Supermarkets in the GTA including Mississauga and Richmondhill and Oriental Market in Scarborough/Markham. The real gem is Ocean's Foods (flagship store)in Mississauga at Hurontario & Eglington These are all Chinese supermarkets superstores with huge steam tables with fresh made BBQ, Large Assortment of Dim Sum , And some on the best Chinese foods that rival eat in places and all you can eats . You guy's will love these places.http://www.oceansfood.ca/ http://btrustsupermarket.com/ http://www.tnt-supermarket.com/ http://www.orientalfoods.ca/
George replying to a comment from Foo / February 2, 2014 at 03:18 pm
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Tacky and garish to others, but in Chinese culture......
During Chinese New Year, the Chinese use a lot of red and gold colors. Why?

Red symbolizes good fortune and joy in Chinese culture and it is found everywhere during the Chinese New Year and other family holidays or gatherings. Customarily, on Chinese New Year, the elders give the younger ones a red envelope to welcome in the new year and give a blessing to the younger ones. The red envelope is also a symbol of prosperity. Red is also the color in Chinese weddings, representing good luck, joy and happiness, thus, red should not be worn on funerals.

Yellow/Gold is considered the most beautiful color. The Chinese saying, Yellow generates Yin and Yang, implies that yellow is the center of everything. Yellow symbolizes neutrality and good luck and is sometimes paired with red in place of gold. Yellow was the color of Imperial China and is held as the symbolic color of the five legendary emperors of ancient China. It also represents freedom from worldly cares and is thus esteemed in Buddhism as seen where Monks’ garments are yellow, as are elements of Buddhist temples.

People who write articles should do research before posting/publishing.

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