Toronto celebrates Chinese New Year

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Text and photos by MARITES N. SISON

The countdown to the Lunar New Year celebrations on Jan. 31 has begun in the Greater Toronto Area, which has over 500,000 Canadians of Chinese ancestry.

The Origami, at the invitation of Ruth Malloy – founder of the definitive multicultural guide to Toronto blog, Toronto Multicultural Calendar – visited the annual Lunar New Year fair at the Fo Guang Shan Temple in Mississauga.

We offer a collection of photographs taken at the fair, most of which explains the rituals associated with this very colourful and festive occasion.

Kung hei fat choy! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Kiong Hee Huat Tsai!   or the traditional Cantonese, Mandarin and Hokkien new year’s greeting, which means “Congratulations and Wishing You Prosperity.”

 

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Golden lotus flowers with wish tags line a red wall welcoming the Year of the Horse. Let a thousand gold lotuses bloom.  The lotus flower symbolizes purity, beauty, love and fidelity in Buddhism. An offering of $3 entitles a donor to choose one wish, $5 for two wishes and $10 for 20 wishes. Wishes are then pinned to a wall, adorned with the altar of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva (enlightened being) of compassion. Wishes range from good health to “attaining happiness and wisdom.” A family poses with a boy dressed up as the god of fortune. The year of the horse good luck charms; the horse is “a good companion for our journey in life,” according to a Buddhist monk at the fair, who explained its significance in Chinese zodiac. Fruit baskets to ring in the Lunar New Year: the Chinese believe that oranges and kumquats symbolize happiness, apples bring wisdom and peace, grapes and pineapples herald good fortune. Shoppers choose “auspicious plants” for the new year, including chrysanthemum (joy), orchids (love and luck), pussy willows (prosperity) and anthurium ( bright future).

 

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Like the lion dance, the dragon dance is an ancient art form traditionally performed during Chinese New Year celebrations. Ancient Chinese revered the dragon,  which is believed to bring good luck. The dance is accompanied by drumming and the playing of cymbals to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. Abbess Venerable Yung Ku of Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto, enjoys the dragon dance at the fair. Lion costumes lined up before the lion dance performance. The colours of the lions symbolize the five elements of life: yellow (earth), black (water), green (wood), red (fire), and white (metal). Big Head Buddha and lion heads. The Big Head Buddha's job is to tease the lions in the lion dance and to rouse the crowd during performances. The Big Head Buddha and the lion offer a rousing performance at the Lunar New Year fair. Photo: © The Origami, Marites N. Sison Venerable Yung Ku, the abbess of Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto, feeds the lion with lettuce, which it tears into pieces and spits out. According to tradition, anyone who catches the torn pieces will receive good luck. Lion and dragon dance performers take a much-deserved break after a performance. A volunteer offers warm greetings to visitors at the fair. A grandmother teaches her granddaughter the ancient Chinese art of paper cutting. The fair includes free calligraphy lessons. Books on Buddhism are sold at the temple's annual Lunar New Year fair.

 

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Children delight in candied fruits that symbolize a sweet new year. Sweet snacks for the Lunar New Year celebration. Pineapple cakes are considered great gifts for Chinese New Year, as they symbolize prosperity. These are quite popular in Singapore and Taiwan. Candied fruits - often hawthorne berries and strawberries - are a popular snack in China, especially in the cold months. They are also sold on Lunar New Year celebrations. The temple's Lotus Tea House serves delicious vegetarian fare, including this laksa vegetarian rice noodles. Vegetarian fare at the fair. Red bean cakes made on the spot. Row of sweets.

 

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The densho bell outside the Fo Guang Shan Temple is rung 108 times at the stroke of midnight on Lunar New Year’s Eve to end the old year and welcome the new one. Each chime is said to represent one of 108 sins one needs to overcome to achieve nirvana (the final state of peace and happiness in Buddhism). "The evening drum rolls the sounds of the Dharma, the teachings of Buddha," according to the Fo Guang Shan Temple website. Incense sticks offered to Buddha on the burner outside the temple. Bright red lanterns adorn the hall of the temple in preparation for Lunar New Year on Jan. 31.

Directions to Fo Guang Shan Temple:

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