City Palate: Chinese’s Lunar New Year Festival 

For most Calgarians, New Year’s Eve is a night of celebration associated with drinking and partying, but for our Chinese community, it is a two-week celebration with food, family and wishes of good health and prosperity. Also called Spring Festival, it is celebrated from the first day of the first lunar month, which varies each year based on the Gregorian calendar.   

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Family Celebration

The first day, called Lunar New Year, is the most important day of the year for Chinese family reunions. The last day, is when the Lantern Festival takes place to signal the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations; this is when children go out at night carrying paper lanterns and solving riddles on the lanterns.   

Lunar New Year’s is traditionally celebrated at the oldest living family member’s home.  Typically, more than 10 dishes are prepared for the feast, though that number varies with the number of family members in attendance.  

Two weeks prior, much preparation happens - families clean their house of garbage and bad omens of the previous year and they wear new clothes and shoes to welcome in the new year. Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during the entire two weeks as the Chinese word for tangerine and orange sound like the words for luck and wealth respectively.

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Lunar New Year’s Dishes 101 

In most cultures, food plays a very important role in almost every annual holiday celebration, but perhaps none to the extent of the Chinese culture. 

It is customary on New Year’s Eve to serve fish at the end of the evening meal to symbolize a wish for abundance in the coming year. The word for fish “yu,” sounds like the Chinese words for “wish” and “abundance.”  The fish, served whole, with the head and tail attached, symbolizes a good beginning and ending of the coming year.

Spring rolls and egg rolls are served as they symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to that of gold bars.  

Lettuce wraps are popular because the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like “rising fortune.” Often, they are filled with dried oysters as the words for “dried oysters” sound like the word for “good.”

Lion’s Head Meatballs are popular as the “lion” represents power and strength in Chinese culture, while oversized meatballs symbolize family reunion.

Sweet and Sour Pork is popular with families hoping for a lot of grandchildren, as the Cantonese word for “sour” sounds like the word for “grandchildren.” 

Jai, a vegetable-only dish (also known as Buddha’s Delight) is popular on New Year’s day given the Buddhist tradition is that no animal or fish should be killed on the first day of the lunar year.  

And then there are “Longevity Noodles.” Symbolizing a long life, they are not to be cut!

The popularity of Nian Gao cakes is due to their sweetness which symbolizes a rich, sweet life, their layers representing a rising abundance for the coming year, and the round shape signifying family reunion. 

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Chinese (Lunar) New Year In Calgary

Because Chinese New Year is traditionally a family event, it is most often celebrated at a restaurant.  However, if you are interested in experiencing a Chinese New Year’s Dinner in Calgary, your best bet is to get a ticket to the Sien Lok Society’s New Year Gala Celebration. This year’s dinner is on Saturday, February 2 at the Regency Palace restaurant.  This year is the 50th Anniversary, get your tickets early as it sells out quickly. 

Link: Sien Lok Society’s New Year Gala

Terry Wong, Executive Director of the Chinatown Business Improvement area suggests trying Silver Dragon, Golden Inn or Culture Centre restaurants for a traditional dinner. Tang Dynasty and Great Taste will have a Northern China style meal, while T Pot and Regency Palace are your best bet for “hot pot” fondue delicacies, while Calgary Court and U & Me offer a contemporary Hong Kong café twist. 

Two Penny on First Street SW in the Beltline is also a good bet. Last year they offered a Chinese New Year’s dinner banquet with dishes like Shanghai noodles, ling cod soup, crispy chicken, dim sum, gai lan, mandarin merengue tarts and more daily during the two week New Year’s celebration. Dinner guests were also treated to receiving the customary red envelopes with special prizes inside.  Though most of the prizes were small, one larger prize was given out each day.

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2019: Year of the Pig

Chinese (Lunar) New Year in 2019 is on Tuesday February 5thand it is the year of the Pig.  The Pig is the last animal in the Chinese zodiac and is part of a 12-year zodiac cycle. In fact, there are five types of Pigs – Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth which are part of a 60-year cycle.  2019 is the year of the Earth Pig.  People born in 1959 or 2019, are cooperative, communicative, popular among friends and punctual. They are born lucky in life and are well-versed in managing financial issues. Earth Pigs become are rich in middle age due to their hard work in earlier years and can expect to live in abundance during old age. (Note: Just because 2019 is the year of the Pig, doesn’t mean Chinese families will be extra pork dishes this year.) 

I am not aware of any other culture where food, language and symbolism are linked with family traditions as they are in Chinese culture. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of City Palate magazine.

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Join in the Calgary’s Chinatown Celebration

CISS - Chinatown Ice Sculpture Showcase February 5th at Open at 4pm, Reception at 5pm

To start the Chinese Spring Festival in Chinatown, the CDBIA is hosting its first ever 'Ice Sculpture and Carving Showcase'. Over 10 sculpture and carvings by three ice carvers from Harbin and Hong Kong China are expected to demonstrate their Chinese-based arts, culture and craftsmanship. This Showcase is made possible by sponsors from Hainan Airlines, HSBC Bank, the Calgary Flames and many more. 

This promises to be an eye-opening spectacular for all Calgarians, tourists and visitors. With Dragon and Lion Dance performances and other cultural demonstrations starting, please come join us to kick off Chinese Lunar New Year’s with CISS.

To enjoy the full experiences of CISS, come on down to James Short Park (4th Ave / Centre Street SW) on:

  • February 3-5 - Ice carving demonstration 10am - 6pm  (Gated entry, secured observation area)

  • February 6-10 - Ice sculpture / exhibit showcase:   9am - 9pm  (Gated, voluntary donation entry)

  • February 11-18 - Ice sculpture / exhibit showcase:   9am - 9pm  (Gated entry; weather permitting)

  • February 14-18 - Valentine Day Ice Sculpture:   9am - 9pm  (special event hosting 11am-2pm)If you like this blog, you will like these links:

CDBIA - Chinese Lunar New Year Gala Banquet Wednesday February 6th at 5:30 Reception, Networking, and CNY Dinner

Come join the merchants and leaders of Chinatown to celebrate the 2019 start of a great and prosperous new year. The CDBIA invites you to participate in our 2019 - Year of the Pig gala banquet at the Regency Palace Restaurant, Dragon City Mall, 4th Avenue / Centre Street SE.  In addition to the delicious 10-course banquet meal, the night promises a night of great cultural performances, arts and cultural demonstrations, ice carving demonstration and more.

Early arriving dinner guests are invited to view the CISS - Chinatown Ice Sculpture Showcase and meet the sponsors at a VIP tent. A Lion Dance team will then escort you to the banquet reception. Four lucky banquet attendees will win return flight Hainan Airline tickets to Beijing China and there will be other door prizes from the Calgary Flames and others.

PURCHASE TICKETS BY THURSDAY JANUARY 31st - 4PM; Tickets can be bought at www.chinatowncalgary.com/cny 

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