February 2, 2011

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

My husband is a Rabbit.  This year is supposed
 to be a good, peaceful one for him.  Let's hope so!
Celebrating the Lunar New Year is a big deal in this part of the world.  Vancouver has had a healthy Asian, and particularly Chinese, population from the beginning of its days as a city.  Immigration has remained steady over the past one hundred years and the Chinese and related cultures have grown to make up a large percentage of the population here in the Lower Mainland.  When I was a student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, forty percent of my fellow students were of Asian descent and I believe that number is even higher now.  In cities like Richmond, just outside Vancouver, whole shopping centres are Asian in theme and content, and several of the public gardens are beautifully and decidedly Asian in design.  CBC Vancouver morning radio is occupied with Chinese New Year these days, as well.  The descriptions of special dishes and family gatherings are reminiscent of Christmas and my mouth waters to hear of Wonton soup and shrimp salad rolls - a delicious snack I enjoyed often at the UBC Arts lounge. 

The end of January is a good time to start looking forward to something.  The weather, especially last week, was particularly gloomy here - the rain came down relentlessly and the damp invaded my bones.  Some friends of ours, not in the least Chinese themselves, nevertheless put on a Chinese New Year party every year as a way of cheering everyone up.  We are all expected to arrive with some indication in our appearance of the animal that is our birth year's sign.  I am a rooster, but since I don't own anything roosterish to wear I figured it would be acceptable enough to arrive dressed in New Year colours of red and gold.  It wasn't.  Before long, my friend Sue, the hostess, found a rooster figurine (a salt shaker actually), threaded it with a piece of red ribbon and hung it around my neck.  I'm really going to have to look for some rooster earrings or a scarf for next year!  Believe it or not, most people were good sports and arrived with tiger tails, rat ears, piggy masks, or dragon shirts.  The party was a supper pot-luck and most of the dishes were Asian in origin, so we enjoyed plenty of spicy coconut based dishes, rice and vegetables. (The desserts were decidedly North American, though.) We all had to sign in with the 'front office staff' of the party - my youngest daughter and her friend - under our respective animal signs, and then we were photographed with our fellow roosters, dogs, sheep etc.  A good time was had by all and the effect was the one desired:  we were certainly cheered up! 

Growing up in caucasian-filled eastern British Columbia, Chinese New Year was not something I knew anything about, but the college I attended had an English as a Second Language department (for which I tutored throughout the year and then worked for as a teacher assistant one summer) and welcomed mainly Chinese speaking students from Hong Kong as well as several Japanese young people.  The department celebrated the Lunar New Year and hosted various events throughout the college and so my friends and I were introduced to the traditions.  When I worked for the department we went for traditional Chinese New Year supper at a restaurant near the college.  It was the first and only time I ever attempted to eat duck served with the head and feet intact. 

The other day I was shopping for a gift for a friend whose birthday happens to fall on Chinese New Year and noticed that Purdy's chocolate shop (founded in Vancouver in 1907) had a display of 'Year of the Rabbit' chocolate medallions and 'Good Luck' chocolate coins wrapped in red and gold paper.  The rest of the shop was filled with the reds and pinks of the upcoming Valentine's Day wrappings.  The girl at the counter told me she was tired of red (the shop had been filled with red since well before Christmas) and couldn't wait for the pastel-coloured wrappings of Easter, which will, no doubt, be the overwhelming theme in the shops come February 15th (bunnies and eggs are already making an appearance in the grocery stores).  When Easter is over, Purdy's will go back to their usual regal purple and gold wrappings with a few apple themed teacher gifts thrown in for the end of the school year.

The annual Chinese New Year parade during the 2010
Olympics in Vancouver
As I get older, the holidays seem to follow each other in increasingly rapid succession in the commercial world, providing more reasons for Lindt or Purdy's to cash in appearing all the time. While I don't really take ownership of something like Chinese New Year - as my Polish friend Agnieszka would say, "I didn't grow up vis it" - I certainly don't mind piggybacking onto the celebrations for the sake of breaking up the late winter doldrums.  The wait for one of the most important holidays in my life, Easter, which isn't until April 24th this year, will be long enough.  Besides, acknowledging the importance of the Lunar New Year to our Asian-Canadian neighbours is just good manners, right?  Party on!

Note:  Gung Hay Fat Choy means 'Best Wishes and congratulations.  Have a prosperous and good year.'

The photo at right is from the Toronto Sun's website.


  1. nice..bet it would be cool to be at a celebration of chinese new year...rooster eh? trying to remember what i am...i think like an ox or something like that...

  2. Is there a Native Tribes week also.

  3. Brian: actually I think the technical term for a female rooster is 'hen' so I suppose I'm a hen.

    Vince: Yes, there is, but they are not called Tribes, they are called Nations and the Nations have smaller groupings called Bands. the public schools here have a large percentage of Native children and they have large celebrations on the local reserve to which all the children are invited. My youngest went to one just last week.

  4. This is a fitting tribute to a wonderful culture. After our heavy snowfall I noticed many rabbit tracks around our yard. Timely animal for 2011.

  5. Paul: That made me smile this morning. Thank-you :)

  6. OH Rebecca we LOVE CNY! Having two Chinese American children make it even more fun wanting them to embrace their culture! We all enjoy Chinese food and have been eating a LOT of it. We love all the partying that is CNY.

    Your party with friends sounds like SUCH FUN! What a great idea. Think we might have to do something like that next year!

  7. I was just telling Jonah about the Lunar New Year. He was really excited about the dragon. It is celebrated around here quite a bit. We have a large South East Asian population. But there is not a parade. They have a big festival at the local exposition center.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!