The annual Chinese New Year Celebrations officially began this week on Tuesday and will last until February 19. According to the Chinese zodiac, each year is represented by a different animal and 2019 marks the beginning of the year of the pig. As one of the Chinese community’s most important holidays, this week sees a variety of events celebrating the Chinese New Year in several cities across the country.
The Buddhist Fo Guang Shan He Hua temple, at the heart of Amsterdam’s Chinatown around Nieuwmarkt, is a focal point for the Chinese Buddhist community. The temple is offering a Chinese New Year blessing ceremony this Sunday (February 10th) from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm, as well as a light offering ceremony on February 17th from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. While the services are exclusively held in Mandarin, the temple warmly welcomes everyone who is interested in attending. In fact, it is not only Buddhists from China who practice their faith in this temple, but also those from other Asian countries such as Thailand.
“The Chinese like to use the time period of the Chinese New Year to prepare for a good and auspicious year”, says Ivan Lim, a volunteer at the temple and an active member of the Netherlands’ Chinese community. In order to do that, the Chinese celebrate the New Year as largely as possible. Lim wanted me to note that he didn’t want to speak to me on behalf of the temple but rather from a personal point of view. “People buy new clothes, clean the house. It is good to start the new year clean”. When visiting the temple, he continues, it is popular to light incense and give food offerings, specifically in the form of mandarin oranges, as they symbolize luck and auspiciousness. The Cantonese word for mandarins, ‘kam’, is the same as the word for ‘gold’.
Shuka Ishikawa / The Amsterdammer
For Lim, the new year celebrations will involve a small family gathering this upcoming weekend, after which he will head to The Hague. Each year, the Foundation for Chinese Cultural Events in the Netherlands organizes the official nationwide celebration. This Saturday the celebration will open at 10:00 am in The Hague’s city hall, followed by a presentation of the traditional lion dance and fireworks. There will be several events and demonstrations of Chinese culture offered all over the city, such as a Chinese food market, art exhibitions and a parade.
For those less familiar with Chinese New Year, the website offers an array of information and facts about the holiday. For instance, the tradition to return to one’s family for a new year’s dinner causes the world’s biggest annual human migration. In 2015 Chinese ticket offices allegedly sold 1000 train tickets per second 60 days prior to the onset of the holiday. The website also provides a handy way to find out your Chinese zodiac sign and its meanings by looking at your birth year, alongside with your sign’s prediction for 2019. Good luck for the new year!