Metro Vancouver welcomes the Year of the Tiger

Even as the precautions at physical distance continue, the lunar New Year spirit continues to blaze

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There will be parties. There will be lucky red envelopes. There will be lanterns. As the next new moon appears in the night sky on February 1, the lunar new year begins, welcoming the year of the Tiger.

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And like all other holidays over the past few years, the Lunar New Year festivities will look very different as COVID-19 public health orders continue to limit the festivities, which typically involve crowds, cheering and sharing food and drink.

But with more than 700,000 Vancouverites of Southeast Asian or East Asian descent, though physical distance rules continue, the lunar New Year spirit continues to blaze. Imagine a party that is so joyful that it binds people of the thinnest relationships to family ties; a festival so epic that it spans two weeks; an event so imbued with legend that it enchants dragons. This is the most important holiday for many in Asia, and its presence and importance is growing in Vancouver every year.

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Of course, the dragon dance in Chinatown and the Lunar New Year’s Eve countdown at the Aberdeen Center in Richmond have become important holidays. But other events, such as LunarFest, are trying to bring this celebration out of Vancouver’s Asian enclave and to a wider audience. LunarFest is a heritage event from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics designed specifically to showcase all the joys and beauty of the lunar new year and make it inclusive.

“We really wanted to welcome people beyond traditional Chinese-speaking communities … Lunar New Year is a celebration in so many different cultures,” said Charlie Wu, CEO of LunarFest.

LunarFest 2022 Treasure Box Lantern: To celebrate the Year of the Tiger and raise awareness of various wildcat species, the Canadian lynx and the Taiwanese leopard cat (an endangered species) are depicted on the design.
LunarFest 2022 Treasure Box Lantern: To celebrate the Year of the Tiger and raise awareness of various wildcat species, the Canadian lynx and the Taiwanese leopard cat (an endangered species) are depicted on the design. Photo taken with permission from LunarFest /PNG

Even if you’ve never heard of LunarFest, it’s likely you’ve still seen one of its striking lanterns glow in the winter night somewhere in town. Its main art installations use traditional Chinese lanterns as muses and reinterpret them for contemporary audiences. Each stands 10 feet high, three feet wide, lined with original artwork.

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This year, the lanterns will be located in two “lantern towns” around Vancouver: šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square (the northern square of the Vancouver Art Gallery, January 27 to February 9) and Granville Island (January 29 to February 21).

Lanterns are an important symbol during the Lunar New Year, usually used on the fifteenth day of festivities marking the first full moon and last day of the holiday season. They symbolize the illumination of a clear path forward in a fresh new year.

And part of this bright new future involves a much more inclusive festival, according to Wu. “We suggest a party where everyone can see themselves as participants instead of just being spectators.”

For this purpose, LunarFest orders original works of art for the lanterns every year and reaches out to different communities. This year, they have a diverse group that includes indigenous, LGBTQ and Punjabi artists who have created works of art with the theme “We Are A Family.”

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LunarFest currently has 14 lanterns with hopes of adding 16 more this year thwarted by the global supply chain crisis. “Well, if we’ve learned anything from the last two years, then this is it [that] you need to be flexible [and] have a backup plan, ”reflects Wu.

Good luck showing the image of Xia Hai City God Temple located in Taipei.
Good luck showing the image of Xia Hai City God Temple located in Taipei. Photo taken with permission from LunarFest /PNG

And LunarFest has backup plans for many of its other events.

Its concert at the Orpheum with the Harmonia String Ensemble together with three community choirs (Korean, Latin and Italian) must be recorded in the event that a live, indoor performance is not possible.

Even the ever-popular traditional fortune-tellers (Mongolian knot, Chinese fortune-tellers, etc.) are ready to predict your future over video sessions if restrictions on outdoor social gatherings require it.

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Before COVID-19, Lunar New Year was a holiday that triggered the world’s largest annual human migration. The urgency of being reunited with loved ones, especially for the Lunar New Year’s Eve party, was so great that hundreds of millions of people traveled in China alone (reduced to tens of thousands of millions during the pandemic).

These dinners are epic with the family and the extended family, gathered around endless dishes of whole steamed fish, Buddha’s feast, cool rice cakes, dumplings, noodles and a dozen other delicacies.

For some, it’s the only time they can see each other. The vacuum left in the absence of these parties and gatherings can be terribly unsettling. But having culturally relevant events like LunarFest helps provide new ways to celebrate and connect, whether it’s gathered outside or bubbled up inside.

“The tiger is a lonely creature,” Wu says. “They act on their own, but they still protect each other and take care of each other. People can do the same. We are individuals, but we all need to help each other.”

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