These dinners, candy boxes and events will help you usher in the Year of the Dragon.
The Lunar New Year is a holiday centred around prosperity, good health, and honouring family, and it is 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 February 10, 2024, to bring in the Year of the Dragon.
While you might often hear “Chinese New Year,” various Asian cultures celebrate this occasion, 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 (February 10–17, 2024) that includes lobster longevity noodles, pastrami spring rolls (a traditional symbol of wealth and prosperity), oysters and pearls and steamed whole fish (to symbolize abundance).
Hong Shing offers an eight-dish Chef’s Tasting Menu featuring delicacies like ginger-onion lobster arancini, osmanthus beef tenderloin and lobster chee cheong fun (available February 1–14, 2024).
Enjoy the Lunar New Year celebration at Dasha with traditional dragon and lion dances accompanied by Chinese drummers. Pan-Asian special menu items include whole fried fish, snow crab okonomiyaki and galbi cheese steak gimbap. Performances take place one night only (February 10, 2024), but the special menu and cocktails will be available all weekend (February 10 & 11, 2024).
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 for a wide array of gift boxes ready to go with an assortment of lucky snacks.
Lunar New Year decorations and red envelopes
Alongside all of that food during the 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, a 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, which has several locations across Toronto, including Scarborough and Markham.
Lion and dragon dances
We’d be remiss not to 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.
Downtown Chinatown’s two-day Lunar New Year Celebrations will feature lion dances alongside musical performances, cooking demos, fortune telling and cultural booths at Chinatown Centre and Dragon City Mall (February 10 & 11, 2024).
More about Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year spans numerous cultures and is known by different names. In China, it’s also called the Spring Festival or simply Chinese New Year. The festival is also celebrated in Korea as Seollal, in Vietnam as Tet, in Tibet as Losar, and in Mongolia as Tsagaan Sar.
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 between the middle of January and late February. According to the Chinese calendar, there is a cycle of 12 zodiac animals. 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, symbolizing strength, fortune, wisdom and success.
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.