Heralding in the Chinese New Year with a bang! 新年快樂

I love Chinese New Year celebrations! For starters they happen over about three weeks… (spread through the weeks before and after the actual official date of the Chinese New Year) and the food, colourful parades, food, traditions, food, performances and fireworks (and food) make it a highlight on my bucket list calendar. Not to mention that in traditional Chinese culture this is the most important holiday of the year (no, I’m not Chinese but I could be).

This year (2018) I managed to get in several celebrations across Gauteng. My festival calendar kicked off at the magnificent Nan Hua Buddhist Temple in Bronkhorstspruit on Sunday 18 February, which came alive with colour, sound and fun festivities. After a traditional opening ceremony, the festivities kicked off with some serious firecrackers fired off to mark the start of the day. From my close up seating in the front I had to dodge a few hot pieces of wayward shooting debris. I should have followed my nephew’s example and stuck to the food stalls at the back.

This was then followed by the traditional dancing Chinese dragon (propped up by at least a dozen good men) and preceded by crashing cymbals and other noisy musical instruments.

The dragon dance (lots of weaving, wiggling and acrobatics to stand upright) was followed by four colourful Lions dancing, led and taunted by a plump teasing Buddha.

Traditional dancing, foods and handicrafts (and lots of curly lucky bamboo for sale) lent to the fun and excitement on the day and you could even join a guided 30 minute meditation to escape the burgeoning crowds and learn more about the Buddhist culture.

You could even paint your own chinese lantern or partake in a traditional tea drinking ceremony or throw your wish for the year (written on a ribbon with a coin on the end of it) onto the Wishing Tree! Red money lucky packets were dished out by characters in costume to wish us luck for the year ahead. What an awesome start to the Chinese New Year, but wait – there was more to come…

Joburg’s First Chinatown

The following weekend I joined the Chinese New Year celebrations in Joburg’s First Chinatown on Commissioner street, which culminated with a massive and impressive fireworks display over the CBD. Tons of food stalls, plenty of traditional entertainment and a huge crowd made it a loud, colourful and exciting evening downtown. I also witnessed a tea ritual meditation demo, which was fascinating and oh, so elegant.

We nearly had too much excitement when my buddy almost turned herself into a human firecracker and set herself alight walking into a burst of fireworks. Each shopfront has a huge firework chain hanging in front of their store which they set alight after the dragon has danced like crazy in front of their shop – apparently the loud flash crackers are lit to ward off the dragon and any evil, but almost had us alight too. We quickly realized not to get too close to the action as the procession of dragon and ear-drum popping loud firecrackers moved ceremoniously down Commissioner street!

Cyrildene Chinatown

On Saturday March 3 it is the turn of Cyrildene, Joburg’s biggest Chinatown, to celebrate Chinese New Year. The event is an exuberant, noisy and colourful affair, with the long main street, Derrick Avenue, filled with streetside food stalls and Cyrildene’s many restaurants all offer special festive menus. In the early evening a long parade begins to wind its way up the street, led by a colourful Chinese lion who is followed by dancers in traditional costume and a long, dancing Chinese dragon. Cymbals crash and firecrackers flare as the lion visits every business along the street. Chinese New Year in Cyrildene is a busy, noisy and exciting affair – watch out for the many wayward fireworks! – that makes for a most memorable cultural experience – and I plan to be there dodging the crackers from the safe distance of the many food stalls!

New year’s dinner at the Red Chamber

My friend Emma Chen runs the best Chinese restaurant in Joburg and it wouldn’t be a new year celebration without one of her famous theme evening dinners during their New Year celebrations (she even had her own huge Dragon draped across the ceiling for this special celebration).

In her own comical words…

Dear Dog Lovers

Funny how one changes. From a Jack Reacher action hero bang-bang Judge Dredd person, I suddenly find myself watching Love Actually and Jane Eyre.  The world appears rosy and I am happily in love – in love with this country of ours.

Of course, the truth is always more complicated.  This rosy-all-is-right-with-this-world frame of mind might also have something to do with the Chinese New Year celebration.  Lots of food and wine and firewater tend to put me in a good mood in any event.

The Year of the Rottweiler is simply what the doctor ordered – loyalty, justice, fairness, strength, alertness and discipline.  We can very well do with these qualities.   Plus the fact that Chinese Rottweilers do not bark “Woolf! Woolf!” they bark “Wang! Wang!“ which sounds just like “prosperity.”

Just shows you what great benefit a second language can be.

When you come to celebrate the Chinese New Year with us on the 27th (our New Year celebration lasts for 15 days), I would expect you to master these new words, only one word actually, lucky you.

Date: 27 Feb 2018 (Tuesday) night


Stir-fried Prawns in Lettuce

Crabstick and Celery Salad

Steamed Scallops

Prawns with Fresh Fruit

Peking Duck

Rainbow Willow Fish

Plum Chilli Beef

Vegetable Fried Rice

Golden Nugget Tart

P.S. This is the Earth Dog year, so I guess there will be some muddy affairs on the horizon.

P.P.S.  If you absolutely hate Rottweilers, you may choose another breed of your choice; as long as they fall under the “canine” species and possess the above mentioned qualities.  We cannot lower the standard.

What it means: depends on your year of birth, the year of the Dog mean different things to different people.  It symbolises loyalty, faithfulness, justice and discipline.  Dogs are our oldest friends.  It should be a year of friendship too.  Dogs bark to communicate, especially to alert us to danger.

When does it start: based on lunar calendar, it starts on 16 February 2018 and ends 4 February 2019.

What to do: if you were born in the year of the dog, such as 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006.  You should wear something red close to your body for the whole year.  The easiest way to do this is to wear red underwear or a red bracelet.

Celebration:The Chinese New Year celebration lasts for 15 days, starting from the New Year Eve banquet and ends with the Lantern Festival.

New Year starts from getting rid of the old.  Before all the fun starts, everybody would work together to clean the house thoroughly.

New Year means new everything: from toothbrushes to socks, from toothpaste to shoes.  The thing to do is to start the New Year with new things literally.

New Year is about eating and drinking: depends on different regions, abundance of different food and drinks are consumed, non-stop.  Dishes of auspicious association are chosen to bring luck to the New Year.  Togetherness and wholeness are emphasised, such as a whole fish and whole duck.  Sitting at a round table laden with food and drinks, everyone shares, laughs, jokes, ganbeis.

New Year is time to worship the ancestors: the first thing each household does in the New Year is to light incense and bow at the ancestor’s tablets.  Then the junior members of the family must bow at the senior members.  Do not feel sorry for the junior ones as they receive a red envelope filled with cash in return!

Back to me – cash? What? There was none in my little red envelope from the first celebration?

Oh well, better luck next year!

P.S. the meal at Red Chamber was excellent, as always!

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