Chinese new year festivities are muted in Bengaluru

Chinese new year festivities are muted in Bengaluru

Expats welcome the new year with intimate dinners and visits to churches and temples

Bengaluru has at least 500 Chinese expats living here. While a small number, they have become a part of the city’s fabric. 

January 25 marked the Chinese new year this year, which is usually referred to as the spring festival. The festival is associated with several myths and customs; it is a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. The celebrations last for over a month, and ends with the Lantern festival. 

However, this year’s celebrations have been dampened by a cloud of fear because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

We spoke to a few people from the Chinese community to find out how they celebrate the occasion. 

Leena, who owns a salon on Brigade Road, has been living in the city for a few years now. She says that the celebrations are muted here as the community is very small. “The festivities are bigger in Kolkata because there are more Chinese people there. My children have been a part of the celebrations there,” she explains. However, they go to the church or the temple, after which the family meets for lunch, she adds. 

Melinda Liao explains that most people who migrated from China settled down in Kolkata and dispersed from there, which is why the new year is celebrated with much more gusto.

“If it is only family, we indulge in a dinner or lunch. The festivities revolve around food. However, if friends happen to be in town, we may visit a resort. The celebrations in Bengaluru are often more intimate.”

She adds that sometimes the Chinese consulate in Mumbai organises activities for the community here, so that they don’t feel homesick. 

Liu Tadd Chong’s great grandparents moved to Kolkata during the Chinese Revolution in 1944. His parents shifted to Hyderabad in 1972 and he moved to Bengaluru to pursue his higher studies. “It has been years since I celebrated the Chinese New Year. There aren’t a lot of Chinese people here, and we don’t really go back. My parents went there last in 1981, but I have never visited,” he says. He adds that a major part of the celebration is the dragon dance where they go door to door in a dragon costume and burst firecrackers. “We are such a small community and the tradition is not well-known here, so it would be odd.” 

Leena mentions that most of the city’s celebrations is centered at the Shangri-La Hotel as they organise a Lion Dance. People in lion costumes perform to the rhythm of drums to scare off evil spirits and bring good luck and fortune. They curate a menu specially for the event, with all the traditional favourites. 

How do they celebrate?

Every year, the most fireworks in the world are burst during the Chinese new year. They believe that this wards off evil spirits. 

The colours of red and gold form an integral part of the festival. Red is associated with luck and good fortune, while gold symbolises balance and good luck. 

Red envelopes is one of the most anticipated part of the day. Elders in the family hand over these packets filled money to the young ones. The money in red envelopes is known as ‘yā suì qián’, which means ‘money to anchor the year’.

Every ingredient used in the dishes prepared for the day has a symbolic meaning. Spring rolls get their name from the fact that they are traditionally eaten on the first day of spring. 

Everyone dresses up in new clothes as the festival is a time of change an new beginnings. The new clothes signify the act of discarding the old and welcoming the new. 

Year of the rat

The rat is the first of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. As legend goes, the Jade emperor asked the 12 animals to race against each other. The one who won the race would begin the zodiac cycle. Th cunning rat hitched a ride on the ox. When the ox was nearing the line, the rat jumped ahead and won the race. 

The rat symbolises prosperity and new beginnings. It also signifies wealth and abundance.