One of the top reasons for visiting Victoria is that for a relatively young city, there are an enormous amount of historical sites to visit and explore. From the majesty of The Empress Hotel to the craggy gravestones and winding paths of Ross Bay Cemetery, one of Canada’s oldest graveyards, Victoria is rich with history. One of the most resplendent and highly visited areas in downtown is Chinatown. As the oldest Chinatown in Canada and second oldest in North America, so much history is encapsulated in one block of BC’s beautiful capital city! It’s no wonder that it draws crowds from around the globe and during the Lunar New Year, there is nowhere better to be than Victoria’s Chinatown enjoying the festivities and engaging with the local Chinese and Asian communities that celebrate this important holiday.
The Lunar New Year is celebrated in East and Southeast Asia based on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. While Lunar New Year is celebrated on the same day by many different Asian countries, the celebrations, interpretations and even zodiacs are unique to each country. In China, the New Year is called Chūn Jié, in Vietnam, Tet, Korean New Year is called Seollal, and in Tibet it is known as Losar. The Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, 15 days later. Because the lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, the dates of the holiday vary from year to year. In 2021, Lunar New Year was celebrated on February 12th on Western calendars and in 2022, Lunar New Year begins on February 1st. Before the beginning of the new lunar year, it is customary to thoroughly clean the house to remove any bad luck and prepare for a fruitful and fortuitous year. It is also customary to spend New Year’s eve and New Year’s day with family members, performing religious ceremonies and honouring ancestors. On New Year’s day, family members receive red envelopes called lai see with small amounts of money inside that are meant to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. During the holiday, there are frequent dances and fireworks displays, culminating in the Lantern Festival, celebrated on the last day of the New Year’s celebrations. On this night, colourful lanterns light up the houses, and traditional foods are served to mark the anticipation of the return of spring and symbolising the reunion of family.
This year, the traditional festivities that mark the Lunar New Year may be postponed but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still celebrate the Year of the Tiger! Below are five ways to celebrate Lunar New Year in Victoria, even if the traditional festivals are cancelled!
Shop in Chinatown
Whether you’re staying right downtown Victoria or if you have to make the drive from Sidney or Sooke, a day shopping in Chinatown around Lunar New Year is a wonderful way to spend a festive afternoon!
This packed store has been a staple of Victoria’s Chinatown for many years. If you’re looking for authentic Asian snacks and a great selection of ingredients for pho, stir fry, sushi or any of your favourite dishes, this is the place to go. They also have a large selection of cookware, flatware and odds and ends to make sure you’re prepared, no matter what culinary task you’re taking on.
On the corner of Chinatown right next to the Gate of Harmonious Interest is Quonley’s, a staple of the community and so much more than just a corner store. While the bulk of the business is a convenience store, you can find beautiful teapots, cup sets, paper umbrellas and silk slippers.
If you’re looking to get ready for the Lunar New Year, this is the place to go for everything you need to get ready for the celebration. From lanterns and decorations to red envelopes and traditional crockery, Dragon Village is the place to go for New Year prep!
Eat in Chinatown
Taking a walk over to Chinatown to enjoy some of the incredible, authentic food is a fabulous way to get into the spirit!
Tarn and Toom, the owners of this incredible dumpling house have taken their family’s traditional dumpling recipes and methods and brought them to you! Order a bag of frozen dumplings to cook at home or get them fresh fried and enjoy on the spot!
Wah Lai Yuen Bakery + Restaurant 華麗園
This unassuming restaurant in Chinatown is a favourite locals spot to find incredible food at decent prices. Everyone in Victoria knows that this is the place in Victoria to get the best BBQ duck and perfect Chinese buns.
Make Traditional Foods
If you’re staying at a property outside of Victoria, you don’t have to make the trip into town to get into the Lunar New Year celebrations! These chef-worthy kitchens are perfect for trying your hand at some traditional recipes served during the holidays!
Steamed fish is one of the most popular dishes served on Lunar New Year, especially in China. In Chinese the word for ‘fish’ sounds similar to the word for ‘surplus’, thus making it an auspicious dish thought to help bring a year or prosperity to the family. This recipe is easy to follow and will help you create an auspicious fish dish yourself!
Traditional dumplings are notoriously difficult to make. The dough and filling must be the perfect thickness and consistency, and the pinching technique is an art form in and of itself. If you want to tackle the task of making these traditional New Year treats, this recipe is the best and easiest one I’ve tried, but in all honesty, for this Lunar New Year, I think I’ll just order from the Dumpling Drop!
Traditionally served at the Lantern Festival in China, these rice balls symbolise family unity as family members gather to celebrate this important holiday. Sweet and gooey, once you know how to make these incredible delicacies, you’ll want to pull them out as a showstopper at every gathering. These can be made ahead of time and frozen so you can make a large batch and pop them on to boil when you need to
There are lots of fun and easy ways to prepare your space for the Lunar New Year! Put couplets on the door, hang Chinese knots, keep blooming flowers indoors and hang red lanterns. These decorations are temporary, mobile, easy to hang and come in all shapes and sizes so you can easily decorate your EMR rental!
Couplets as they are seen today originated from the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BCE) tradition of Taofu, inscriptions on boards made from peach trees and hung across door frames to ward off evil spirits. During the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 CE), the peach wood boards were replaced by red paper, covered in bright wishes for the future. Today, you can find couplets to purchase from Dragon Village or create your own!
There is some speculation that people may have originally made Chinese knots to record information and convey messages before the invention of writing but what is known however, is that during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) these knots were popularised as both artistic decoration and to symbolise various good fortunes and wishes. Chinese knots are tied and woven from a single length of cord or rope into a variety of shapes of varying complexity, each with its own symbolic meaning. You can purchase these knots of various sizes in most shops in Chinatown and if you want to try to make your own, you can find a great tutorial for a daily simple luck knot here.
Lanterns are used in many different celebrations in China and the colour of the lantern dictates both its meaning and use. Red lanterns used during the closing of the Lunar New Year at the Lantern Festival are to symbolise wealth, fame, success and prosperity in the hopes that these attributes will follow into the new year. If you’re looking for more elaborate lanterns, you can purchase red lanterns of many sizes and styles in Dragon Village and many other stores in Chinatown or you can DIY simple ones of your own to hang!
Get into the Spirit
What better way to spread good wishes during the Lunar New Year than learning how to say “Happy New Year”? Below are all the ways you can acknowledge the Lunar New Year!
Gong Xi Fa Cai: Wish you happiness and prosperity!
Gong Hay Fat Choi: May prosperity be with you!
Sae Hae Bok Mani Baduseyo: I wish you good blessings for the New Year!
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới: Happy New Year!
Vạn Sự Như Ý: Everything is as one wishes! Or Everything you want will come true!
Tashi Delek: Blessings and good luck!