Winnipeggers mark Lunar New Year with tone of solemnity amid deadly California shooting

The sound of firecrackers exploding on streets in Mauritius is a memory Rosanna Leung-Shing will always hold close.

Lunar New Year festivities for the Year of the Rabbit in wintry Winnipeg on Sunday will be a bit different compared to those she celebrated for most of her childhood on an island in the South Indian Ocean, but the traditions of the holiday aren’t lost on Leung-Shing.

She still gifts bright red packets to friends and family. The packets, which traditionally contain money, symbolize well wishes and luck for the upcoming year.

“It’s a time of joy and people go to people’s homes and bring gifts, and it’s celebrated in all cultures. So it’s not just the Chinese culture but everybody celebrating it,” she said Sunday.

Leung-Shing, who is the vice-president of Manitoba Great Wall Performing Arts, also ensures pre-holiday tasks — such as extra cleaning, preparation of snacks and decorating her house, which includes putting up Chinese lanterns — are complete well ahead of celebrations.

She came to Canada at the age of 14. Now a mother of her own, Leung-Shing has tried to pass down the importance of Lunar New Year traditions to both her adult children.

LISTEN | Lunar New Year celebrations taking place in Manitoba this week:

The Weekend Morning Show (Manitoba)11:33Lunar New Year celebrations taking place in Manitoba this week

Rosanna Leung-Shing is Chinese, born and raised in Africa, and speaks French and not Mandarin. How does she keep the traditions of the Lunar New Year alive? Keisha Paul found out when she welcomed Rosanna to the Weekend Morning Show.

But she worries future generations might lose touch with those traditions.

“I do have a little bit of a fear that it is going to be like any other day,” Leung-Shing said.

“It’s up to us to continue [spreading traditions] and making sure that we’re getting together…. It’s not going to be as expensive but we’re still going to keep up those traditions — the red packets that we give them. That is something I hope we don’t lose but I don’t know.”

Two people in a stylized lion costume turn around the corner of an aisle at a Chinese supermarket, while a shopper carrying a handheld shopping cart, looks on.
A lion dance makes its way through the aisles of the Sun Wah Supermarket in Winnipeg’s Chinatown to mark the Lunar New Year on Sunday. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Alex Zhou is part of a younger generation, and isn’t a complete traditionalist when it comes to celebrating Lunar New Year.

The 25-year-old from China had dinner with friends on Saturday night. Since his family is back overseas, he says spending time with friends and enjoying the food are important ways to ring in the holiday.

“I don’t really care about the tradition,” Zhou said. “You have to do a lot of dancing … I’m not that kind of guy.”

Lion dance and luck

But Bernard Phanthavong, president of the Flying Lion Dance Troupe, is excited to be dancing again.

Phanthavong  expects the next year will have a “fast and energetic pace” because it’s the Year of the Rabbit, which happens to be one of the luckier zodiac signs, he said.

His troupe did many virtual performances due to COVID-19, but he’s happy to be performing in the community once again. 

A man stands with a lion costume behind him.
Bernard Phanthavong, president of the Flying Lion Dance Troupe in Winnipeg, expects the Year of the Rabbit to fast-paced. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“The lion dance it’s really meant to chase away evil spirits and they bring good luck and prosperity for the new year,” Phanthavong said. “The lion grabs the lettuce — the colour green, similar to wealth or money. So when the lion eats it and then spits out the lettuce back to you, it’s like showering the audience with wealth and prosperity for the new year.”

This year’s celebrations could, however, be a bit muted with a rising COVID-19 death toll in China and a mass shooting following a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, Calif., late Saturday night, Leung-Shing suggests.

“It’s not something you can’t forget. Obviously you know it is reality,” Leung-Shing said.

“As much as you want to make it look like it’s OK, you still have to celebrate and you but you still have that sadness in you of all that’s going on. So I do hope the Year of the Rabbit is going to bring calmness and hope.”

In Vancouver, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in a Lunar New Year celebration and addressed the shooting.

He said his “heart breaks” for the people whose Lunar New Year celebrations were “violently attacked” and whose lives were forever changed by the shooting.

Police stand outside investigating a shooting.
Police officers stand outside a ballroom dance club in Monterey Park, Calif., on Sunday. A mass shooting took place at a dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

Trudeau said that while it was nice to see everyone gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year in-person for the first time since the pandemic began, news of the shooting has also caused sadness amid what should be a joyful time.

“We will be there for whatever support Canada can offer,” Trudeau told reporters before the parade got underway.

He said he is sending condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and is keeping the victims in his thoughts.

Intergenerational celebration

Geoffrey Young is all about Lunar New New Year traditions, and so are his children and grandchildren.

Young, who owns Kum Koon Restaurant in Winnipeg’s Chinatown, said his grandchildren were especially excited to watch the Flying Lion Dance Troupe perform at the restaurant on Sunday afternoon.

“My grandchildren, they all coming. They all coming to to see this. They were excited about it. They also invite their school friends to come,” Young said.

A man with glasses sits at a table with people in the background.
Geoffrey Young, owner of Kum Koon Garden restaurant in Winnipeg’s Chinatown, says it’s important to spend time with family on the holiday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

For Young, Lunar New Year centres all around family.

He’s also thrilled to have a chance to celebrate the day at a family gathering tomorrow.

“Lunar New Year to us is very important in the Chinese community even if we are in Canada because this is a year … [where] everybody wishes everybody health and good luck,” Young said.

A woman holds up a display of baked goods.
Jenny Li, co-owner of Ming’s Bakery in Winnipeg, displays some of the baked goods that are customer favourites around Lunar New Year. She says round treats are sought out by those who celebrate because it represents family unity. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Jenny Li, one of the owners of Ming’s Bakery, said people who celebrate the holiday stock up on food in the hopes it brings them abundance in the year ahead.

It means business is brisk this time of year. 

“It’s like Boxing Day shopping. A customer earlier today was like, ‘I don’t know why, but when I come to the bakery, I feel like I’m panic-buying all the time,'” Li said, chuckling. 

Li said customers particularly seek out baked goods with a round shape, since it symbolizes family togetherness. 

Winnipeggers ring in Year of the Rabbit

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Duration 1:46

Chinese Winnipeggers celebrated Lunar New Year on Sunday with a lion dance, food and family.

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