Chinese New Year, often referred to as the Spring Festival, is a major traditional holiday for most Chinese people around the world. Festive spirit is at a peak and celebrations call for the sharing of good food, family reunions and the observance of many traditions steeped in themes of good fortune, wealth and happiness.
In 2016, it is the Year of the Monkey (Red Fire Monkey) and celebrations mostly start on 08 February.
Practise how to wish a ‘Happy Chinese New Year (Gong Xi Fa Cai)’ here: http://goodcharacters.com/mp3/gongxifachaimp3.swf
The Legend of Nian
One of the most popular legends about the origins of Chinese New Year, dates back to the Shang (Yin) Dynasty (1558 – 1046- BC) that succeeded the Xia Dynasty.
Chinese mythology describes Shang Zhou Xin (Di Xin) the last King of the dynasty causing disruption to the alignment of the planets, blocking highways with thorns and abandoning all state ruling in favour of parties and corruption. During this period, ghouls cried in the night and the festival used to be observed to fight against the monster ‘Nian’ who liked to terrorise villagers at night.
Over many years, villagers realised the monster was afraid of red colour, fire and loud sound. Therefore, people decorated their houses in red, set fires in the street, placed lanterns from their doorways and set off firecrackers to expel it.
The Lunar Calendar
Chinese New Year depends on the lunar calendar (the cycle of the moon) so it is not the same as Western New Year that falls on 01 January.
The exact date changes every year, but it usually falls on a day between 21 January to 20 February in the Gregorian calendar.
The lunar calendar signifies the change of time each year by representation of animal signs – better known as the Chinese zodiac.
There are twelve animals that repeat every twelve years; 2016 represents the ninth animal of the Chinese zodiac, the Monkey (see below):
||February 7 – 13
||January 27 – February 2
||February 15 – 21
||February 4 – 6
||January 24 – 30
2016 Year of the Monkey
The Year of the Monkey or Year of the Red Fire Monkey signifies joy, creativity and passion.
Years of the Monkey: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028, 2040, 2052
People matched to this zodiac are considered as lively, versatile and intelligent, especially in their career and wealth.
The Monkey is considered to be a clever animal, good at problem solving, and youthful by nature.
Strengths: enthusiastic, confident, sociable, innovative, a problem solver
Weaknesses: egotistical, jealous, suspicious, manipulative, selfish
Want to find what your Chinese zodiac sign is? Scan this QR code below to visit Travel Chinas guide:
Gift gifting during Chinese New Year
It is popular to give gifts during the Chinese New Year celebrations, though be wary as gifts have strong symbolism attached to them. Often, people give red envelopes with money inside.
Some well-considered gifts are liquor, cigarettes, tea, fruits, healthcare products and red envelopes.
Gifts to avoid include umbrellas, clocks, shoes, sharp objects or chrysanthemums.
Food at Chinese New Year
Certain dishes are eaten at Chinese New Year for their symbolic meaning, and is a great opportunity to try traditional foods including glutinous rice cake (niangao), rice balls (tang yuan), dumplings, and spring rolls.
It is also considered good luck to display oranges and tangerines because of their roundness and ‘golden’ colour, and the Chinese word for orange sounds the same as the Chinese word for ‘success’.
If you want to try something different during Chinese New Year, local company Easy Asia Thai & Sushi School in Antibes offer 3 hour private Asian cooking courses so if you’ve ever wanted to try making spring rolls, pad Thai or sushi get in touch with them. They provide all ingredients (Rice, sushi grade salmon, prawns, vegetables, Nori sheets etc…) with all necessary utensils (Rice cookers, rolling mats, cling film). As an example, a private course would include ingredients for around 80 pieces of sushi (enough to feed 4 to 6 people). They are offering a Chinese New Year special where you can book one of their private courses for €150 instead of €180. Visit them on Facebook: https://fr-fr.facebook.com/Easy-Asia-Thai-sushi-school-1436711216633391/
Chinese New Year in France
Chinese New Year is celebrated across France, most notably in Paris in the 3 districts with large Chinese communities – the 13th arrondissement, Belleville and the Marais.
The round up of 2016 Parisian celebrations is:
Wednesday 10 February at 4.30pm = lion dance and martial arts demonstrations in the Paris 11e in the parvis of the Mairie
Saturday 13 February at 2pm = Parade in the Marais (3e and 4e) leaves from Place de la République then following rue du Temple, rue de Bretagne, rue de Turbigo and rue Beaubourg.
Sunday 14 February from 1pm = The celebration in the 13th arrondissement is the largest Chinese New Year festival in France with lion and dragon dances, food stalls and fireworks and it is attended by thousands of locals as well as Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian families. The parade follows the route: avenue d’Ivry, avenue de Choisy, place d’Italie, avenue d’Italie, rue de Tolbiac, avenue de Choisy, boulevard Masséna and avenue d’Ivry.
Other French cities:
On Saturday 06 February, the city of Nancy is hosting a festival in the Grand Salons Hotel de Ville from 11am – 6pm. Look for dragon dances, Chinese food stalls, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, calligraphy workshops and more. The dragon parade leaves Place Charles III at 1.45pm.
The city of Brest, is hosting origami workshops for kids, tea drinking ceremonies, and a Chinese buffet on Saturday 06 February. http://www.confucius-bretagne.org/
Sunday 07 February sees a full day of celebrations in Sens including a lion dance, martial arts demonstrations, arts and craft workshops and food stalls. http://bourgogne.faemc.fr/
For anyone in the Alsace region, Sunday is also the main festivities in Mulhouse from 10am – 7pm; head along for Chinese food, tea ceremonies, martial arts displays and more http://www.confuciusalsace.org/
Lyon, with a Chinese community of 15,000 people, also has a Chinatown, located in the Guillotière neighbourhood of the 7th arrondissement, on rue Passet, rue d’Aguesseau and rue Pasteur. Thanks to its important silk industry Lyon has always fostered relationships with China. A Franco-Chinese Institute existed as well from 1920 to 1946 at Fourvière for Chinese students. This year, unfortunately the Chinese New Year parade has been cancelled however a show will still be held at the Cité International.
La Poste has released a commemorative stamp set for the Year of the Monkey. The stamps are in a block of 5 with face value of 0,80 each and sold at La Poste shops or online.
Chinese New Year on the French Riviera
I find it surprising that the French Riviera does not host a Chinese New Year festival yet – Chinese tourism is a key market with huge tourism revenue.
However, February is so busy with other major events and festivals here such as Nice Carnival and Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) that its understandable that it may be one festival too many to organise.
While I can’t direct you to any Chinese New Year festivals happening on the French Riviera, here is a suggested list below of Asian restaurants in the region to save you trawling through hundreds of TripAdvisor reviews.
These restaurants are my suggestions of where you are most likely to try some traditional foods and who knows, you may get invited to a private party for Chinese New Year! If you want to buy firecrackers, try Air de Fete in Cannes though you’ll need special permission from the Mairie (Town Hall) to let them off.
Comme en Chine, 2 rue Joseph Fricero, 06000 Nice : Suburban Chinese restaurant, authentic Northern Chinese-style food.
Restaurant La Demi-Lune, 2 bd Lech Walesa, 06300 Nice : Authentic Chinese food located close to Nice Port.
Le Dragon Bleu, 2 bis rue Paganini, 06000 Nice : Asian food located not far from Avenue Jean Médecin in Nice so stop by for lunch after shopping.
Le Mandarin, 6 rue Dalpozzo, 06000 Nice : Family-run restaurant in Nice with Chinese-Vietnamese cuisine.
Le Seicle d’Or, 85 Allee Louis Bleriot, 06210 Mandelieu-la-Napoule: Good value ‘all you can eat’ buffet offering a range of dishes from sushi to noodles and fried rice.
Ancre de Chine, 26 boulevard Aiguillon, 06600 Antibes : Broad menu of different Asian dishes covering curries, stir fries, soups
Hong Yun, 4 avenue Tournelli, 06600 Antibes: Located 5 minutes’ walk from Antibes train station with all the Asian dishes you may want
Jade d’Asia, 40 avenue Anatole France, 06800 Cagnes-sur-Mer : A good option for Cagnes-sur-Mer
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