Song Lam is from Hong Kong and moved to New Zealand with her family in 1990. She's one of more than 100,000 Chinese living in Auckland, many of whom are gearing up for the biggest event of the Chinese calendar.
The year of the dragon starts on January 23, and this weekend Auckland's Chinese community will begin to celebrate.
When The Aucklander visits, the retired teacher has prepared a table covered with the trappings of Chinese New Year Celebrations.
"In China and Hong Kong we call it Chun Jie, or Spring Festival, because the new year marks the first day of spring. It's the first and most important Chinese festival on the lunar calendar."
She says right now in China, trains will be full as people make their way to family reunions for the all important New Year's Eve banquet. "People will travel a long way so they can all be together for this day." Children are allowed to stay awake until midnight to see in the New Year as it's believed this will give their parents long lives.
She holds up a red envelope covered in gold characters. "On the first day of the year all the children have to dress up nicely and visit their grandparents to wish them a prosperous New Year. The grandparents give them this lai see with money inside for them to buy anything they want."
Children are also offered snacks from the New year candy box; Song has a lacquered red one brimming with treats. Most items associated with the celebration are red as this is the colour of happiness.
She says on the second day of the year, daughters are expected to visit their parents. "And on the third day there is no more visiting because we're very tired and if you visit someone on that day they will be very cross."
In all, Spring Festival celebrations last until the 15th day of the New Year and culminate in lantern festivals. (Auckland's lantern festival begins on February 3).
The Chinese lunar calendar cycles through 12 animals, and 2012 is the year of the dragon. Song says the dragon is a particularly auspicious animal as it represents authority, royalty and strength. "Everyone wants to have a dragon baby; it's a very important year. In China a lot of young couples will rush to have a baby this year."
Song recalls feeling homesick for new year celebrations during her early years in New Zealand. "At that time there were only about 30,000 Chinese in the country. Now there are around 140,000 and we have lots of Chinese organisations which put on celebrations. Unfortunately, in New Zealand we don't have a holiday for the New Year."
Song goes every year to the festival and market day at the ASB showgrounds and the lantern festival in Albert Park. This New Year's Eve she, her husband, younger son and close friends will dine together at a Chinese restaurant.
"We feel very happy being in New Zealand because there are so many chances to celebrate our culture."
AT HOME in Albany, Robert Bao and Sophie Shao are sharing childhood memories of this holiday season.
Their 4-year-old daughter Eileena is dressed in a pink qipao, part of the traditional outfit Chinese children wear for New Year celebrations.
Robert is from Shanghai and Sophie from a small town called Tieling in northeast China. Robert says as a child, New Year celebrations were all about lollies, cookies, firecrackers, new clothes and the wonderful money-filled red envelopes from older relatives. "Usually when we were young we had to give the money to our parents but when we got into our teens we wanted to keep it for ourselves."
He says having negotiated who would host the festivities, his extended family gathered on New Year's eve to begin celebrations with a huge meal. "There would be about 20 dishes or more and my parents would be preparing for days. Every family has a dish or two that they can make really well so we would look forward to eating those special dishes that our own parents didn't know how to make."
For Sophie, New Year's Eve meant going to her grandparents at about 3pm. "We would cook dinner and gather together and watch the CCTV (China Central Television) New Year gala. Meanwhile, the women will begin to make dumplings and the men will play cards or mahjong."
"We would stay together until midnight, do the countdown and then eat dumplings. After the fireworks display we would all go back to our homes."
The celebrations don't end there, says Sophie. It's the start of a week-long public holiday. "In China we only recently started to celebrate Christmas, and we don't have a public holiday on that day. So Chinese New Year is really our big holiday."
On the fifth day of the New Year, fireworks start in the early hours of the morning. "It's believed that if you are the first to let fireworks off the gods will hear them and bring good fortune to your house," says Sophie.
The couple studied and worked in New Zealand between 2004 and 2008, before returning to China for three years. They have now settled in Albany where Eileena will start school this month, and Sophie and Robert are looking for work.
This Chinese New Year's Eve they will host four Kiwi friends for a traditional meal, cooked by Robert. Robert's parents taught him to cook when he was young. "In Shanghai, women have a higher position than men so the men do a lot of the housework and cooking," he explains.
"But in the North of China it's the women who do it," says Sophie. "So a lot of girls in China want to marry a Shanghai boy."
Robert says the guests can expect a range of meat and vegetable dishes and a desert of sticky rice with red beans. "I won't be making as much as my parents used to, maybe 10 dishes."
The couple plan to settle permanently in New Zealand and say they'll always celebrate Chinese New Year. "It's a tradition," says Sophie. "It's a very important time of year for Chinese people."
"And an excuse to make some delicious food and give my daughter some new clothes," says Robert.
CHINESE NEW YEAR EVENTS
Lantern Festival in Albert Park, February 3-5. Free admission.
The 13th annual Lantern Festival will include dragon dancers, acrobats, music, food stalls and a procession of intricate lanterns. It runs from 5-10pm each night.
Chinese New Year Festival and Market Day, Saturday, January 21, 9.30am-4pm, ASB Showgrounds. Free admission.
Attended annually by about 20,000, this year's festival will be opened by Prime Minister John Key. More than 200 stalls will sell Chinese food, arts and crafts. Puppet shows, martial arts displays and Chinese pop bands.
ASB Lunarfest at TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, Manukau, Saturday January 21, 3-11pm. Free admission.
Plays, dances, music and craft and food stalls. Fireworks at 10pm blow away the mishaps of 2011 and herald in the year of the dragon.
Chinese and Korean New Year Festival, Northcote Town Centre, January 27, 5.30-9pm and January 28, 10am-3pm. Free admission.
Music, martial arts and dance performances from a variety of cultures including Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Children's activities and Asian cuisine.
NZSO Chinese New Year Concert, Auckland Town Hall, Friday February 3, 7.30pm. Book at The Edge.
NZSO concert featuring conductor Perry So and two talented soloists. Pianist John Chen will perform one of China's most loved compositions, The Yellow River Cantata, composed in 1939 by Xian Xinghai. Soprano Jenny Wollerman will sing Ross Harris' The Floating Bride, The Crimson Village and the combined orchestra will perform Beethoven's Symphony No6 Pastoral.
Auckland Libraries has various activities including 'Storytime for Little Dragons' and dragon-making, calligraphy and lantern-making workshops, tai chi demonstrations, and Chinese paintings. Plus 'Ask me in Mandarin' sessions. See www.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz to see activities in your area.
firstname.lastname@example.org Sophie Bond | Friday, January 20, 2012 6:00