According to the Australian government's archives, Chinese people first came to the country in large numbers – as did many other people - during the mid-nineteenth century. Lured by the promise of gold mining, many settled and there are now significant Chinese communities all over Australia. From towns like Ballarat in Victoria to cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, Chinese culture can be detected, usually in the form of an Asian restaurant or two. However, it is at Chinese New Year that many Australians really come into contact with Chinese cultural ideas face-to-face. What are the traditions that have become established among the Chinese communities in Australia?
Like Thanksgiving in the US and Easter in Europe, Chinese New Year is a time for families to get together and celebrate the coming 12 months. Of course, that means that many of the Chinese population centres in Australia see an influx of people from smaller communities elsewhere in the country. The Chinatown districts of Adelaide, Brisbane, Broome and Sydney, for example, often have street celebrations and vibrant atmospheres during the celebration period. Families will often partake in 'shou sui' where they stay up late together and set off fireworks.
An essential part of any culture, the symbolism and meaning of food for Chinese people cannot be underestimated. Chinese cuisine includes many traditions at New Year, usually designed to usher in good fortune. To enjoy a traditional good-luck meal at a Chinese restaurant, make sure that fish is on the menu and that dumplings have multiple pleats. Spring rolls, which resemble gold bars, are also considered auspicious.
Seen in places like Sydney, dragon dancing is a long-standing Chinese New Year activity in Australia. The dance is performed by a group of performers who must act in unison to create the desired effect. Dancers will manipulate the bendy figure of a dragon which can vary in length according to the number of performers. By using poles positioned at intervals under the structure, the team generates movements which represent a dragon's river spirit.
New Year festivities run on for some time in Chinese tradition. In the days following New Year's Day, temporary market stalls are often set up. Australians will see these in many urban centres across the country. New Year goods are usually sold which includes things fireworks, decorations and handicrafts. Chinese New Year markets are frequently decorated with a number of Chinese lanterns.