These dinners, candy boxes and events will help you usher in the Year of the Rabbit.
The Lunar New Year is a holiday centred around prosperity, good health and honouring family, celebrated in Asian communities all over the Greater Toronto Area.
It's a celebration filled with get-togethers, large feasts, colourful decorations, traditional clothing and age-old customs. This year it kicks off on January 22, 2023, to bring in the Year of the Rabbit.
While you might often hear "Chinese New Year," this occasion is celebrated by various Asian cultures, so "Lunar New Year" is the more inclusive term.
There are different ways to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Toronto so let's dive into a few common traditions.
Lunar New Year food
One of the best parts of the Lunar New Year is the food. There are various celebratory meals, but the most important is a dinner feast with extended family on the eve of the new year.
These dinners can be quite traditional and are carefully curated to include dishes that have a symbolic meaning in their ingredients or how they're named. Some dish names can be quite literal; in other cases, they could be a play on words.
There is a Chinese New Year saying, 年年有余 (nian nian you yu) which translates into "may every year bring you surplus." The play on words is that 余 (surplus) sounds like 鱼 (fish), which is why every dinner will always have fish.
Here are just a few options for restaurants serving Lunar New Year food.
Chef Nick Liu of DaiLo will serve a special tasting menu that includes lobster longevity noodles, pastrami spring rolls (a traditional symbol of wealth and prosperity), oysters and pearls and whole fried fish (to symbolize abundance).
Avling Kitchen and Brewery in the Eastside will offer a special one-day-only menu on January 28, serving dishes that symbolize longevity, peace and prosperity. Dishes include a dim sum platter, Yu Sang Lo Hei prosperity salad, sweet-and-sour pork ribs, and more.
Enjoy the Lunar New Year celebration at Dasha with traditional dragon and tiger dances accompanied by Chinese drummers. Performances will take place on January 21, but the special menu and cocktails will be available from January 21 to 22, 2023.
Lunar New Year takeout
Hong Shing offers a six-course takeout meal featuring dishes like Prosperity Lo Hay Toss Salad and Wealthy Fried Rice.
Parkdale catering company Noble House will give you everything you need to enjoy an at-home (or in your hotel room) hot-pot party, including prepared ingredients and sauces, plus the hot pot itself and other equipment you might need (for an additional fee).
There are plenty of places where you can order your Lunar New Year dinner ahead of time for delivery or pick-up too. There are additional pre-order options from May Yan Seafood, Alma + Gil, Mama Bombina, and Grandeur Palace, to name a few.
Lunar New Year candy boxes and snacks
Another staple of the new year in Chinese traditions is to have a red lacquered box with compartments filled with candies and snacks called The Tray of Togetherness.
This box usually features six or eight compartments — six symbolizing luck and eight for fortune.
Meant for visiting family members, you’ll find edible treats ranging from gold-foiled chocolate Toonies, candied winter melon, watermelon seeds, fried dough twists and sesame balls to name a few. Of course, every single one has a wordplay or meaning behind them.
Outside of these candy boxes, there are plenty of other traditional foods involved such as rice cakes, turnip cakes, traditional Korean cookies called hangwa, and Vietnamese banana-leaf-wrapped banh chung. These can be eaten as snacks or as part of a larger meal.
You can pick up these snacks individually from bakeries such as Wai Tack Kee and Saint Germain Bakery or you can go to T&T Supermarkets where they also have gift boxes that are ready to go with an assortment of lucky snacks.
Lunar New Year decorations and red envelopes
Alongside all of that food during Lunar New Year, it’s customary to decorate your house inside and out. The common thread is that they are red and will be accompanied by sayings of luck and happiness. Popular decorations include lanterns, upside-down words for luck, kumquat tree, blooming flowers and new year banners.
Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the Lunar New Year is the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes filled with money. If you’re looking to purchase red envelopes and other Lunar New Year decorations, a great place to buy them is at One’s Better Living.
Lion and dragon dances
We’d be remiss to not mention the popular and playful lion and dragon dances where a talented team of dancers collectively simulate the ferocious movement of the body and head, constantly matching its timing to the beating drum and cymbals.
More about Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year spans numerous cultures and is known by different names. In China, it's also called Spring Festival or simply Chinese New Year. The festival is also celebrated in Korea as Seollal, Vietnam as Tet, Tibet as Losar and Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia.
In many ways, Lunar New Year is similar to how the new year is celebrated when the clock ticks over to January 1. Instead of following the Gregorian calendar, it follows the Chinese Lunar Calendar, which is set to lunar phases, solar solstices and equinoxes.
As a result, Lunar New Year is tied to the new moon that occurs between the middle of January and late February. According to the Chinese calendar, there is a cycle of 12 zodiac animals. 2023 is the year of the rabbit, symbolizing mercy, elegance, and beauty.
Lunar New Year is packed with traditions, but every culture does it differently, and every family follows these customs in their own way. At the core of every celebration is bringing good luck, spending time with family and eating lots of delicious food.
It's worth noting that Lunar New Year is celebrated for 15 days until the arrival of the full moon (called the Festival of Lanterns). Contrast that to Tet and Seollal, which are celebrated for three days.