Tag Archives: Robert Burns

Chinese New Year – Nanaimo Style

One of the fun things about our move to Canada has been learning about all the different holidays celebrated here.  Like the differences between American Independence Day and Canada Day; the fact that Boxing Day has nothing to do with the sport; and holidays that are even new to the province like BC Family Day.  Many of the holidays that are new to me on Vancouver Island have a decidedly British flair to them, so while I find them fun to celebrate I’m no longer surprised to find them here.  I was surprised, however, when I learned that the Chinese New Year is celebrated on the island.

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I have celebrated Chinese New Year in a minor way whenever I’ve taught one of my anthropology of food courses during a spring semester, but I haven’t lived in a place where it was celebrated in the community until now.  Nanaimo is a city of malls, and people give directions to places in town based on which mall it is closest too.  This gets a bit interesting since a number of the malls have old names and new ones that can be used interchangeably.  In this case, the Nanaimo North Town Centre has an annual Chinese New Year celebration that is free to the public.  Combine the words “celebration” with “free” and it is a good bet that I’ll do my best to attend; especially if there is the possibility of snacks.

Welcoming the year of the Horse at the Nanaimo North Town Centre.

Welcoming the year of the Horse at the Nanaimo North Town Centre.

The Chinese New Year celebration at Nanaimo North Town Centre (and yes, I do keep having to go back and respell “center” as “centre” since even when I focus my fingers feel like that is backwards spelling) lasted from 11am-2pm and consisted primarily of the traditional Lion Dance.  I had read about this, seen versions on TV and in movies, in fact Little Man (and his parents) just learned about the Lion Dance in one of his favorite cartoons Justin Time, but I had never had the chance to view one live until this year.

One of the lion dance costumes.

One of the lion dance costumes.

The Lion Dance is iconic and highly symbolic in Chinese culture, and I know very little about its intricacies.  In short, each costume is worn by two people (front and back) and there are certain moves that are always included.  Around the dancing area there are generally hung pieces of lettuce (or other greens) that the lions eat and other items like oranges or red money envelopes that the lions chew on but do not consume.  All of this is done to a strong drum beat.  The students from a local Kung Fu studio, Hup Ging Do, practice throughout the year to perform here and at other venues.

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Entrance of the lion dancers.

Entrance of the lion dancers.

Unfortunately between the rapid lion dancing and the loud, reverberating drum, Little Man was not interested in staying around for long.  We came, we celebrated, and we retreated to one of the stores in the mall where Little Man “bought” a birthday present for a friend (and a corresponding one for himself) of a cool Chinese style dragon complete with Warrior.  I’m hoping that next year we can last a little longer at the dance, and maybe even try some of the Chinese-inspired snacks set out by the Fairway market.

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Now, what I am really excited about is a hybrid event related to the Chinese New Year that I would like to attend next year.  The event is called the Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Celebration.  Yes, in this amazing melting pot place there is an annual event where they combine to celebrate both the new year in Chinese custom, but also the birthday of beloved Scottish poet, Robert Burns.  My only sadness is that I didn’t learn about this event until it had already passed, but they had me at “haggis wontons.”  From all accounts this is a fun event complete with traditional Chinese celebrations and highland dancers.  I can only imagine how great this would be and I can’t wait until next year!

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Cannon Firing

This post also announces the creation of a Things to do on Vancouver Island page on The Sheep Are Out Blog.  As I come across fun things to do on the island, I will write about them and link them to that page on the blog.  If you are looking for interesting things to do in the Vancouver Island cities you see listed there, please check out the links and blog posts to get ideas.  Also, if you have any ideas for things that aren’t listed there, please send me an email.  We are definitely still learning our way around the island, and welcome any fun ideas.

Cannon Firing

Every day in the summer at noon they fire off the cannon by the Bastion in downtown Nanaimo.  We stumbled upon this tradition one sunny afternoon as we were wheeling Little Man in the jogging stroller towards the sea wall.  It was the music of the bag piper that caught our attention first, the massive cannons second.

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We learned from these presentations that the cannons were never used in battle or for protection, but that they were used in official ceremonies and now were a part of local tradition for summer afternoons.  The firing was always proceeded by bag pipe music, and a few times a local highland dance troupe would dance as well.

Over the summer we went so often that if we were anywhere within ear shot of the cannon and Little Man heard the pipes, he’d ask about the cannon.  Little Man had a love/hate fascination with the cannon firing.  He wanted to be there, wanted to see and hear it fired, but would sit for most of the time with his hands clamped over his ears throughout the presentation.  He would eye the cannon suspiciously through the whole thing, then we would cover his ears before the shot, and once it was over he’d ask for it to fire again.

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The pipes reminded me of Binghamton where a friend played pipes and we would go to his troupe’s biannual Robert Burns dinner complete with requisite haggis.  There was also something special about sitting on the balustrade, watching the ocean and listening to the music.  Little Man would sit spell bound, so for a moment I could concentrate on the sound, not on whether or not my toddler was about to dash into traffic or tip over the sea wall.

When the cannon firing starts up again next year, Little Man will be a year older.  He’s now at an age where he is developing long term memory, and he might… just might… remember these visits to the Bastion and the cannons.  I can’t wait to see what his memories are.

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