Just as Christmas is a major festival in the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese New Year (CNY) or Lunar New Year is the most important occasion for all Chinese. It is also one of the most celebrated festivals around the world with seas of red coloured decorations, street parades, festival markets, firecrackers and fireworks in many Chinatowns over a 15-day period.
For non-Chinese friends, CNY is undoubtedly the best time to experience the traditions, customs and food of the Chinese culture. To help you plan your travel during this festive period, here are 5 of the best cities to welcome and celebrate the Chinese New Year based on popularity and activities.
Global city Singapore offers CNY festivities with a mix of international contemporary and traditional Southeast Asian Chinese influences unavailable elsewhere. This significant Chinese event is actually enjoyed and participated by Singaporeans from all ethnic backgrounds. For visitors, the whole of Singapore comes alive with unique sights, sounds and smells resulting from its multicultural blend of Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese customs combined with main street light ups and parades as well as dinner celebrations and night markets in towns all over the island. Best of all, most shops and restaurants are open during the festive period. However Chinese restaurants will be very busy so make sure you reserve early. For more information on CNY in Singapore, visit www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/en/experience.html
Yusheng [鱼生], a unique raw fish salad consisting of 27 ingredients is a Singapore CNY dish. Visitors can tuck into this culinary symbol of "good luck" for new year consumed by Singaporeans throughout the entire CNY period.
Singapore's Chinatown is the traditional focal point for its CNY celebrations. Visitors can expect a richly decorated multi-street night market at least 2 weeks prior to CNY Eve, offering a variety of festive meats, snacks, fruits, flowers and home decorations. Similar to the light up at Orchard Road during Christmas, this precinct has its own Chinatown Street Light Up accompanied by lion dance, cultural dance troupes and fire eaters. For more information, visit www.chinatown.sg
The grounds of the official residence and office of the President of Singapore or Istana is open to public during the CNY from 8.30am to 6.00pm. Admission is free for Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents but visitors can enjoy the live band performances and lion and dragon dances during the Open House for a token SGD1.
Former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew with CNY visitors at Istana
The annual River Hongbao, held at the Marina Bay area and the Esplanade waterfront promenade, brings a touch of China's festivities into Singapore with provincial Chinese street food, large-scale displays of lanterns and animals from the Chinese zodiac, acts by local and China performers, fireworks and an 10 metre high God of Fortune statue. For more information about this crowd puller, visit www.riverhongbao.sg
Adjacent is the Huayi Festival or Chinese Festival of Arts presented by the Esplanade. As one of the 3 annual cultural festivals of Singapore, it showcases outstanding traditional, contemporary, mainstream and alternative Chinese arts from all over the world. Spread over 10 days, it seeks to encourage audiences to reflect on different perspectives and interpretations of what it means to be Chinese. For more information, visit www.esplanade.com/whats_on/esplanade_presents/festivals/huayi/index.jsp
The most unique of CNY parades must surely be Singapore's Chingay Parade dating back to 1973. This centrepiece of CNY activities is actually a grand carnival-like procession located at the Formula One Pit Building in the Marina Bay area. It features a massive ensemble of mobile floats, dancers, musicians, acrobats, dragon and lion dancers and firecrackers who join Singaporeans and visitors to welcome the season of Spring. Today, Singapore's Chingay Parade is regarded by visitors as the Mardi Gras of the East involving more than 2,000 performers from diverse nationalities and countries like Brazil, Ghana and Slovenia. For more information on this evening-to-night event, visit www.chingay.org.sg
While everyone in Beijing leaves the city to return to their hometown during CNY, Asia's world city is celebrating one of the most important events in its calendar with 14 days of festivities. CNY, more commonly referred to as Spring Festival in Hong Kong, combines authentic Cantonese traditions including temple visits and flower markets with modern-day shopping, dining, a large-scale night parade and annual fireworks display to wow visitors every year.
As the Spring Festival is a major festival for all Hong Kongers, most smaller shops and restaurants are closed for the first 3 days for their own celebrations. However major establishments are still open for visitor to dine and shop during the festive period. All Chinese restaurants will be busy so reserve a table ahead of time if you want to tuck into the Cantonese CNY cuisine. For more information on CNY in Hong Kong, visit www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/index.jsp
Wong Tai Sin Temple / Photo by jellybeanz of Flickr
Although there are over 600 temples in Hong Kong, from the magnificent and elaborate to the small and unassuming, all of them are busy with New Year prayers over the Spring Festival period. Visitors can witness throngs of residents burning incense and praying for good fortune especially at major templates like Wong Tai Sin Temple and Polin Monastery.
Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree / Photo by marvin L of Flickr
In addition to temple prayers, the Well Wishing Festival is a long-established tradition of Hong Kong's Spring Festival. Masses travel to Lam Tsuen to wish for good luck in the new year by releasing a Wishing Lantern and hanging wishes written on a paper on Wishing Trees.
Shopping is a major Spring Festival activity for Hong Kongers. Visitors can join residents who fill the malls and markets for New Year food, prayer items, home decorations and cloths.
Causeway Bay flower market / Photo by Philip Gann Photography of Flickr
A significant part of the Spring Festival shopping ritual in Hong Kong includes visiting the flower markets for "lucky plants" like kumquat trees, green bamboos and pussy willows. One of the most popular is the flower market staged in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, which is teeming with locals especially at night. It is set up at least a week before the Spring Festival and operates till the Lunar New Year Day.
Disneyland Hong Kong is transformed into a giant Spring Festival venue with red lanterns, lion dances, drums and gongs and the favourite Disney characters dressed in traditional Chinese costumes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with visitors. The festive celebrations commence about a week prior to the Lunar New Year Day.
The magnificent backdrop of Hong Kong's famed Victoria Harbour is the stage for its annual fireworks display. Join in the celebrations to welcome the Lunar New Year on the night of the 2nd day as the sky above the Harbour is lighted up by a 20 minutes fireworks. To avoid the crowd, you may consider getting a hotel room with a view of Victoria Harbour.
The biggest event of the Spring Festival in Hong Kong is its Chinese New Year Night Parade in Tsim Sha Tsui on the first evening of the Lunar New Year. Drawing nearly half of Hong Kong's population and visitors, a procession of elaborately decorated floats, lion and dragon dancers, international and performers will snake through the street of Tsim Sha Tsui between 8pm to 9.30pm. Watching the parade anywhere along the parade route is absolutely free. Seating at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre however is ticketed at HKD180 to HKD400.
The City of Sydney is renowned for staging large attention-grabbing events like its world-famous annual New Year Eve fireworks at Harbour Bridge and city-wide Australia Day celebrations.
CNY is no different. Its 2013 program is already filled with Asian markets, cooking demonstrations, tours, exhibitions, cultural events and entertainment. Best of all, majority of the activities are free to residents and visitors.
With more than 80 events to choose from, Sydney is definitely the city with the most CNY activities in Australia. For more information on CNY in Sydney, visit www.sydneychinesenewyear.com. Some of the CNY highlights include:
CNY Festival Launch will be held at Belmore Park on 8 February 2013.
Lion dance at Belmore Park / Photo by City of Sydney of Flickr
The City of Sydney will be introducing 2 inaugural CNY activities including its Lunar Feasts which involved various CBD restaurants in special festive cuisine from 8 to 24 February, and the Dragon Ball, which is a evening gala event held in the Sydney Town Hall on 23 February.
The Twilight Parade with more than 3,500 local and international performers will illuminate Sydney from its Town Hall to Chinatown on 17 February. The city's streets will be alive with music, colourful floats and fireworks.
Golden Gate Bridge / Photo by PatrickSmithPhotography of Flickr
San Francisco lays claim that its 2-week CNY celebrations are the largest outside of Asia. This California city should be able to booster its statement given it is home to the largest Chinatown found anywhere outside of Asia. The Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Festival and Parade includes 2 fairs, a Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, a charity run, a treasure hunt and a CNY parade. For more information on CNY in San Francisco, visit www.chineseparade.com. Highlights of its CNY festivities include:
The CNY Flower Fair is popular with families buying plants and flowers to decorate their homes and as gifts. The Fair takes place on 2 February, the weekend before the Lunar New Year. Traditional Chinese arts and performances are featured at the Chinatown Community Street Fair, which takes place the same weekend as the CNY parade.
The 35th annual CNY Run, a 5K/10K race, is hosted by Chinatown YMCA on 17 February 2013.
An alternative for regular visitors to the CNY parade is the CNY treasure hunt. Participating teams have to solve 16 clues that lead them on a tour of San Francisco's past. It is the CNY urban sleuthing adventure.
Miss Chinatown USA Pageant 2011 / Photo by davidyuweb of Flickr
The Miss Chinatown USA Pageant is one highlight of San Francisco's CNY festivities. Participation is open to any single female from all over the US with a Chinese father, and the winner proceeds to Hong Kong for the Miss Asia title.
The main CNY event in San Francisco is its CNY Parade which isn't held on the CNY Day but comes about two weeks after. Scheduled for 23 February, this annual parade will feature more than 100 mobile floats, bands and performers. For revellers who prefer a seat, there are paid grandstand seating available along the parade route.
London Bridge and the River Thames / Photo by Anirudh Koul of Flickr
From the London 2012 Olympic Games to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Londoners know how to throw a major event and the capital claims its CNY celebrations are the largest outside Asia with parades, performances, fireworks and parties. Led by the London Chinatown Chinese Association and support by the local Chinese community, CNY events take place in Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Chinatown. With over 250,000 people expected to descend on the West End, this is one of the capital's most spectacular festival. For more information on CNY in London, visit www.chinatownlondon.org. Highlights of CNY include:
* At the centre of the CNY party is Chinatown. Festooned with brightly coloured lanterns, this area is a hive of activity with traditional craft stalls and food stands lining the streets. Lion dances cavort in the streets, moving through the throngs of visitors and stopping by shops to wish the owners good luck for the new year.
I was wondering on what criteria these cities were chosen? Doesn't it sound odd that none of the Chinese cities were included except for Hong Kong? Singapore, being a racially mixed society, is not typically Chinese and their celebration is westernized. For westerners, your list might be acceptable, for a 'statement of truth' it leaves a lot to be desired.