Celebrating Chinese Culture


China isn’t the only country rolling out the red carpet for the Lunar New Year. Cities across the globe – home to large ethnic Chinese communities – are also preparing for spectacular celebrations. And to welcome in The Year of the Monkey, Chinatowns in major cities will host parties that add a touch of local custom and also include traditional lion and dragon dance performances, parades, flower displays and food. All are observed in the hope of bringing luck and fortune in the New Year. Here we take a glimpse of how CNY is celebrated in Manila & Vancouver:


Chinese New Year festival in Manila

Manila’s Chinatown is located just across the Pasig River opposite the Spanish walled city Intramuros. It is known by various names -: to the tourists, it is Chinatown; to the Filipinos, the area is known as Binondo; and Chinese Filipinos refer to the area as “Chi Lai”, 市内, a Hokkien term meaning inner city. It has a rich history and heritage dating back to the early decades of the Spanish colonial period. It prides itself on not only having the best and most authentic Chinese cuisine in town but also landmarks, relics and ancient practices of cultural and historic significance. It has been said that “Chinatown played an important role in the growth of Manila. For the first four centuries, this was the centre of trade and commerce in the city. This was also the first stop of the Chinese immigrants who settled and found a new life in Manila. With the coming of these immigrants, a new culture was introduced that enriched the melting pot of the city.”

Filipino-Chinese people perform a dragon and lion dance during the Chinese New Year celebration in Manila's Chinatown
Lion and Dragon Dance in Manila

If you are heading to the Philippines for the Chinese New Year then, you will be in for a treat. The Binondo district of Manila becomes a riot of fun and colour during this time of year with a parade of huge dancing lions and dragons. People hang the “ang pao” on the entrance of their homes for the dancers to collect. About 5% of the total 4 million population of the Philippines consists of the “Tsinoys” and it is this population that makes the Chinese New Year such a gala affair in the Philippines. Although not an official holiday, Chinese New Year in the Philippines is a treat for anybody visiting at this time. Red is the auspicious colour for this occasion and children receive gifts in bright red envelopes with Chinese characters, called “ang pao”. You will also be able to sample the flavours of “tikoy”, the traditional Chinese New Year food made out of sticky rice that is available only at this time of the year.


Chinatown in Vancouver

Chinatown in Vancouver was first inhabited by the Chinese in 1885 and is the second largest Chinatown in North America. Thousands of Chinese and Asian immigrants were attracted to the area by the prospect of work, as gold mines, sawmills, lumber camps, railroad construction and more required large labour-forces. Between 1890-1920, early Chinese immigrants settled in what was known as Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley. By 1890, Shanghai Alley was home to more than 1,000 Chinese residents. Much of the community’s activities and entertainment evolved around a 500 seat Chinese theatre built in 1898. Canton Alley was created in 1904 as a Chinese style courtyard surrounded by two parallel rows of buildings running south from Pender Street. The Alleys were the convergence of vibrant nightlife, opera music, shopping, political and cultural activities. Today Vancouver can still boast of having a large Chinatown district. It has an authentic oriental atmosphere, with many well-preserved buildings in oriental style.

Chinese New Year Parade in Vancouver

This year one of the best places to celebrate CNY is Vancouver’s Chinatown, with the highlight being the parade on Sunday, February 14th. A Vancouver cultural festivity that you won’t want to miss is Chinatown‘s New Year’s parade. There are colourful dragons and numerous bands and people in costumes marching down the streets. The parade goes down West Pender under the Chinatown Millennium gate, up Gore Street, and then back up along Keefer. Tens of thousands of people crowd the perimeter of Chinatown, awaiting the 3,000 performers including 50 lion dance teams, Vancouver Police Department Motorcycle Drill Teams, marching bands and more. After the parade, visitors can head to the Vancouver Chinatown Spring Festival & Cultural Fair at Sun Yat-sen Plaza, before going to dinner at any of the authentic regional-specific Chinese restaurants in the city.

This article was published in the February 2016 issue of Inspire Living Magazine. Download it here!