M3 Features

Kolkata's Chinese community ushers in New Year

February 2, 2014

Red envelopes stuffed with cash as gifts exchanged hands, and colourful dragon and lion dancers streamed in and out of decorated residences here Friday, ushering in the Chinese lunar New Year. The azure night sky lit up with firecrackers, as youth and teenagers soaked in the festivities, and the Year of the Horse in the Chinese almanac imbued the community with the gift of speed. The essence of the festival is the spirit of renewal and family reunions.

Celebrating New Year

The first day of the Chinese New Year is the most significant in the Chinese calendar. The celebrations last 15 days and culminate with the Lantern Festival. Each year is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. For 2014, it's the horse in its wooden aspect. "The horse or wooden horse symbolises speed and energy. It inspires us to pick up the pending work and speed it up. However, one must be careful in doing things in a hurry," Indian Chinese Association president Paul Chung told an English daily.

Kolkata's 4,000 strong Chinese community - settled mainly in the city's eastern Tangra area and the largest in the country - celebrated the occasion with a strong emphasis on renewing familial ties. The lion and dragon dancers moved to the pulsating beats of drums -- they were supposed to bring good luck during the year ahead. "We have lion dancers who entered each house of the community to bring good luck to the household. There were dragon dances too amidst loud drumming. Both lions and dragons are considered auspicious by Chinese," Chung said.

Carrying on the traditions

"But our theme is family bonding. It is a time for reunions. If ties within family are well established, then society is well established. We have tried to bring back that part of our culture and we have succeeded," Chung said while explaining that in the run-up to the New Year, everybody embarked on a cleaning spree a week ago. One of the customs to strengthen relationships was handing traditional red envelopes filled with cash.

"Adults gave their parents a red envelope filled with cash as a token of good luck. Grandparents handed over cash-filled red envelopes to their grandchildren as a blessing. This is like a cycle. It strengthens the bonds within our families. Our families are very close-knit units," said Chung. After the festivities quietened down, the families sat together to savour a course of an entire fish specially cooked for the red-letter - rather red envelope - day. "Fish in Chinese means extra. So you will get everything in extra amounts this year," added Chung.

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