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If you have never ventured into the midst of a noisy, colourful Chinese New Year festival, you are missing out on a vibrant cultural experience. It means exotic foods, firecrackers, martial arts and of course, the famous, bobbing and surging Chinese dragons. There is always plenty to see, hear, taste and enjoy.
I have only been to a couple of the celebrations over the years, most notably the ones at Box Hill, Melbourne's Chinatown and in Richmond. But increasingly as the attendance grows each year, these celebrations have become huge and engaging events with free cultural entertainment, fun fairs that include children's rides and enormous numbers of food vendors selling dumplings and special festive dishes.
Source Visit Victoria
Because of cyclical lunar dating, the first day of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. On the Western calendar, the start of Chinese New Year this year falls on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 — The Year of the Pig. Many of the festivities, however, occur earlier.
Nor are all Chinese New Year celebrations held on the same day, so you have a chance to visit a few of these festivities. All are free to attend.
Here is the list for 2019 in the order of when they occur.
Just a proviso here. The correct translation of the name of the holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years in various Asian countries, in addition to China, is "Lunar New Year." So, you will note that many of the celebrations are called Lunar New Year Festivals.
Sunday, 13 January 2019 | 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM
East Meets West Lunar New Year Festival 2019
This long-established festival brings the streets of Footscray to life with the sights, sounds and cookery smells of Vietnamese and Asian cultures. Attracting thousands, the festival is a day-long feast for the senses with delicious food stalls, a festival parade, cultural dances, musical performances, carnival rides and games. The event concludes with a Lion Dance and Fire Cracker display.
Sunday 20 Jan 2019, 12 pm - 11 Richmond Lunar New Year Festival
The Victoria Street Lunar New Year Festival is one of the busiest in Melbourne attracting up to 80,000 people. In Richmond, you are sure to enjoy the food, variety of food stalls and performances throughout the day and into the night. Every year, the Victoria Street Lunar New Year Festival celebrates people of all cultural backgrounds and aims to bring the community closer together. Come along for the 2018 favourites such as the Pho eating competition, children activities and the famous lion dance.
Location: Victoria Street, Richmond
Saturday 2 Feb - 3 Feb 2019, Saturday - to 1am Sunday Morning
Box Hill Chinese New Year Festival
The Box Hill Chinese New Year Festival is a bustling, exciting event that celebrates the best of Asian culture. It brings in around 80,000 people every year from all over Melbourne. The festival showcases a wide range of Asian cuisines, singing and dance performances, and there are rides for the kids. Starting from 11 am in the morning, up until 1am the next day, there is plenty of time to traverse the streets of Box Hill to soak in what this vibrant community has to offer.
Location: Market & Main Street & Whitehorse Road, Box Hill.
Sunday 3 Feb 2019, 10 am until 10pm
Springvale Chinese New Year Festival
The Buckingham Avenue shopping precinct is transformed into a colourful, vibrant space. Roam through the many market stalls with goods and foods on display, enjoy the amazing entertainment program including traditional lion dancing, live music performances and firecrackers in the streets of the Springvale Shopping Precinct.
Sunday 10 February 2019 10am - 10pm
China Town, Little Bourke Street
An annual and special event is the Dragon's Awakening Ceremony. A Chinese dragon, lions, street performers and cultural activity fill the streets of Chinatown on Chinese New Year Sunday. During the Dragon's Awakening Ceremony, the Dragon parades through the streets of Melbourne starting in Little Bourke Street.
Location: Little Bourke Street (Chinatown), Melbourne.
Saturday 9 Feb 2019 9:30am - 3pm
Preston Lunar New Year Festival
In 2019, Preston Market together with Preston Central will deliver a fun-filled day to celebrate the Lunar New Year festivities. Enjoy Kung Fu, Sword and Tai Chi Demonstrations. There will also be an array of exciting song and dance performances. Along the way, find a bite to eat or craft to make at the many food and cultural stalls.
Cramer St & Mary St, Preston
Saturday 16 Feb 2019, 12:00pm–9:30pm
Point Cook New Years Chinese Festival
Music, performances, food, music and activities. Last year 20,000 people attended. This will be their third year running and in 2019 there will be two lion dances, a dragon dance and a spectacular fireworks finale.
Stockland Point Cook, Corner Main Street & Murnong Street, Point Cook
Saturday 16th February 2019.Sunday 17 Feb 2019 11am - 9pm
Glen Waverley Chinese New Year Festival
Every year, the Glen Waverley Chinese New Year Festival is held at Kingsway, an area renown for its great cafes, cinema and shopping. You will see the famous lion dance and market stalls with amazing food and fun activities for all.
Kingsway, Glen Waverley.
Lunar New Year at Crown the date has yet TBA. So, I shall try and put this up in another article when I hear back. This is normally quite an extravaganza with music, dancing, fireworks, elaborate decorations, cooking demonstrations and the lion weaving its way through the crowds.
At all Chinese New Year Celebrations you will see some amazing sights but what do they all mean?
In the famous lion dances, lion dance troupes visit the shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of "cai qing" (採青), which means "plucking the greens."
Unbeknownst to onlookers is that hidden in that pile of green leaves is a red envelope containing money. The "lion" will dance inwards backing off occasionally like a curious cat, to "eat the green" and "spit" it out but keep the red envelope which is the reward for the lion troupe. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business for the year ahead.
It is dramatic to watch because most of the basic lion dance movements are to be found in Chinese martial arts and the young people beneath the costume are incredibly fit and agile.
You will often see the lion and also the 'Laughing Buddha', who is dressed in a mask and monk's robes. He teases the lion with a fan made of banana-leaves which makes the lion jump around. Check out the video below taken in Box Hill in 2015.
The dance is accompanied by the music of beating drums, cymbals, and gongs, that are synchronised to the lion's movements. It is noisy and chaotic but totally absorbing to watch.
Parents also give their children red envelopes with good wishes for their kids growing and staying healthy in the coming year. Again the red envelopes have money in them. Money put in red envelopes is believed to bring good luck, as in Chinese culture red is a lucky colour, so it, therefore, becomes lucky money. These envelopes also have gold characters on them with wishes for good fortune, health, wisdom, or prosperity.
You will probably have heard of the Chinese names for their years, such as Year of the Ox, Snake, Tiger and so on. This year, 2019 is the year of the Yin Earth Pig (Ji Hai) 2019 and follows the Year of the Yang Earth Dog 2018 (Wu Xu) and comes before the long-awaited year 2020 of the Yang Metal Rat (Geng Zi).
The naming of the years after animals comes from a legend which tells of Buddha, the Emperor of the Heavens, inviting all creatures to share in the New Year's celebrations but only twelve animals turned up. To reward their loyalty, Buddha named a year after each one in the order they came: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram/Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar/Pig.
You will see vivid bright red decorations everywhere. This is to keep away Nian and other such beasts of prey because legend has it that such beasts find the colour red frightening.
Rounds of firecrackers are let off to keep the beasts at bay and to frighten away ghosts so the New Year can start free of them.
Perhaps if you have been having a bad year since December 31st this way you can purge the bad start and begin all over again.
The traditional start to the festival is Chinese New Year's Eve for a dinner where families get together for a lavish meal, with celebrations culminating two weeks later with a Chinese lantern festival. This is a wonderful tradition and worth emulating as there are so many great Chinese restaurants in Melbourne. Melbourne is also becoming quite innovative in some of its Chinese fare, such as the start of Chinese inspired afternoon teas at Melbourne's historic Windsor Hotel. Click here.
Another Lunar New Year festival is Tet an exciting celebration of the Lunar New Year for the Vietnamese people. It coincides with other Lunar New Year celebrations such as the Chinese New Year and typically falls between late January and early February. This is held at Sandown Racecourse. Click here for more information.