The Chinese New Year is the celebration of the Lunar New Year and considered the beginning of spring. Due to the Chinese calendar’s reliance on the lunisolar cycle, which is based on the exact astronomical observations of the sun’s longitude and the Moon’s phases, the new year is a floating date and usually occurs between mid-January and mid-February. This year, Chinese New Year falls on Friday, February 16. The years are broken into the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac and the coming year will be the Year of the Dog.
As the president of the Chinese Canadian Association of Yukon, Charmaine Cheung is one of nine board members who are responsible for organizing their events in the Yukon, the largest being the annual dinner to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The Chinese Canadian Association was officially established in 2012 and this is their fifth annual celebration at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. The first celebration was held at the Mt. McIntyre Recreation Centre.
The large dinner event is an important part of the celebration.
“We have traditional Chinese 10-course meal catered by the Green Garden,” Cheung said. “Last year was a buffet, but this year we are doing a sit down meal. That’s why we have about 30 volunteers this year. Many are helping with serving.”
The dinner evening is also highlighted by several traditional Chinese performances. The event begins at 5 p.m. with a 45 to 60 minute cultural performance. This year the association has brought a Chinese opera from Toronto to perform.
“Opera in China has been around for many years and is a very serious art form, just like in Western culture,” Cheung said. “Having opera at Chinese New Year is a very traditional performance.”
The evening’s performances will also include a lion dance. This dance is an example of the traditional Chinese costumes people often envision with one or two people holding up the costume heads above their bodies. The lion dance is performed by volunteers who spend time preparing each year.
An annual tradition for the Yukon group is to choose a cultural dance to perform each year that highlights China’s many different ethnic groups. “China has 56 ethnic groups,” Cheung explained. “Each year, a member chooses one to perform. This year we’ve chosen Mongolian. They research the costumes and music and then partner with the Northern Lights School of Dance, who choreographs the performance.
“Northern Lights will have some of their dancers perform because they are better trained to do it, but some children of association members will join to learn the dance each year.”
And Yukon singer Fawn Fritzen performs at the event as well. Cheung noted that Fritzen’s mother is of Taiwanese descent and Fritzen sings Chinese songs for the celebration.
While the Chinese New Year celebration is the largest event held each year by the association, they hold several other events throughout the year. They hold a number of internal activities that are only for their members, like the Moon Festival that happens in the fall.
They have become involved in the City of Whitehorse community cleanup in May and have also organized to participate in the Canada Day parade on July 1. This past July they had a dragon and drum team enter into the parade.
The association is a mix of Yukon residents from many Chinese backgrounds and there have been some changes over the years of who is coming to the Yukon. “Originally, 20 years ago and more, the Chinese moving here were mostly from southern China,” Cheung explained. “They spoke Cantonese and would often be interested in opening businesses, like restaurants or hotels.
“Now, in the last 10 years, it’s switched to all over in mainland China and they mostly speak Mandarin. They are choosing different jobs, like professional or retail. The Chinese community is now quite diverse for language.”
Cheung is an example of one of the more recent arrivals and is originally from Shanghai. She has been here since 2007 and works for the Yukon government. While the association has just recently become an official group, Cheung notes that there has always been a desire to share Chinese culture. “Prior to 2012, there was an informal group of Chinese who organized events,” she said. “But the wish has always been to have a formal group to promote and share Chinese culture.”
The Chinese New Year is the largest celebration of the year for the organization and will help achieve that goal of sharing Chinese culture.
Individuals interested in finding out more information about the Chinese New Year celebration or the Chinese Canadian Association of Yukon can find them on their Facebook page or email them at YukonChineseAssociation@gmail.com.