London, Ontario is a dynamic city with a population of over 350,000, according to the 2006 Statistics Canada. Of those residents, 7,340 people were of Chinese origin, putting them in the top 10 ethnic communities by birth in London. When it comes to languages spoken, after the official English and French, Chinese (incorporating Mandarin and Cantonese) tops out at #5, with 5,735 people speaking it citywide. That makes for a pretty large Chinese community in London.

Why do I bring up these stats, you wonder? Why, this weekend is Chinese New Year and the Year of the Snake will be ushered in on Sunday, February 10th, 2013. Put on your best red outfit and bring on the dragon dances. It’s time to celebrate!

Chinese New Year - London

Chinese New Year – London (Photo credit: Heidi & Matt)

Start the celebrations on Saturday, February 9th at 10 am at the Stoney Creek Public Library for a Chinese New Year celebration craft for the family. This free event runs from 10 am – 12 pm. In honour of the Year of the Snake, a special snake craft is planned at the 920 Sunningdale Rd E site. Don’t forget to pick up a book before you go teaching you and the kids more about what Chinese New Year’s is all about.

That leaves plenty of time to go home  to clean the house, buy some new clothes (think red as its associated with happiness, good luck, success and good fortune) and plan that big banquet that goes hand in hand with the New Year’s celebrations. People that celebrate also make offerings to ancestors, give children red envelopes (Hong Bao) filled with money, and of course light off a firecracker or two (they scare away bad spirits). Traditionally, plum blossoms (courage and hope) and water narcissus (good luck and fortune) are a part of the celebrations, as are oranges and tangerines, which represent wealth and luck. One of the more flamboyant aspects of Chinese New Year is the dragon and lion dances that are a wonder to behold. If you haven’t seen the dragon dance, then perhaps this year is the year to see one!

While China might be the ideal place to take in the lion dances, Canada hosts some pretty impressive celebrations in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. If that is still a little too far to travel, then head over to the London Convention Centre on Saturday, February 16th at 5 pm for the Dragon Gala, presented by Chinese Canadian National Council London Chapter(CCNC). There will be a multi-course fusion Chinese cuisine, live entertainment (bet your boots that’ll be a dragon dance!), and a dance after the dinner party. Every year the Dragon Gala raises money for local organizations and this year the recipient of some of that support is Skate Canada CanSkate Legacy Program and Patrick Chan, a Canadian Chinese World Figure Skating Champion. Chan is hoping to go for gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics and the CCNC wants to help him get there. Tickets are $108.

New Year celebrations don’t end there! On Sunday, February 24th there will be a dinner held at the CCNC site at 1701 Trafalgar St. Expect delicious Chinese delicacies. Tickets for this Chinese New Year dinner run $35 or 3 for $100.

Traditional Chinese New Year’s foods

But if you would rather try your own hand at recreating a menu fit for Chinese New Year’s celebrations, then grab a duck to whip up some Peking Duck, prepare some noodles, making sure not to cut them (symbolize longevity), wrap some spring rolls (look like gold bars) and lettuce wraps (Cantonese word sound like rising fortune) and tuck into your favourite jiaozi recipe (round dumplings that represent family unity). You also might want to make some Yu (word sounds like wish and abundance) or fish. Finish your meal with Nian Gao or sticky cakes. Or maybe just a few fortune cookies to see what your future holds.

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy New Year!