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Lunar New Year needs a Canadian facelift

Lunar New Year
Illustration by Jessica Sung.

By Charlie Wu and Charlie Smith

Born to Be Free. It’s such a straightforward concept. But with growing authoritarianism, it’s under siege in many parts of the world.

We in Canada are among the lucky ones. We can speak our mind without fear of arrest. In our diverse society, we form friendships with people from across the planet.

In his memoir My Name Is Not Harry, esteemed Toronto journalist Haroon Siddiqui describes Canada as the only Western nation where skin colour is not a fault line. Siddiqui didn’t have to anglicize his name or compromise his dissident views to succeed in his chosen field.

In Canada, we learn from others through intercultural connections. In the process, we create new traditions that serve as a model for the world.

Yet for some reason, Canada has remained mired in the past when it comes to Lunar New Year. Arriving on February 10, Lunar New Year is supposed to be a time of rebirth and renewal. It’s about looking to the future with optimism and a willingness to evolve to meet new challenges.

Yet in our country, Lunar New Year is often reduced to trotting out the same bromides on an annual basis. Asian community leaders go on talk shows to discuss the meaning of the Year of the Dragon (or whatever other year it might be). Office colleagues chit-chat about their Asian zodiac signs. Politicians don their frog-buttoned tangzhuangs—a.k.a. Tang suits—to march in parades. After it’s all over, the suits are put in the closet only to be pulled out the following February.

Where’s the imagination in that? Where’s the heart?

A new way of looking at Lunar New Year

We are Born to Be Free. As a result, we should be taking advantage of our liberties and creating a Canadian version of Lunar New Year suitable for the 21st century. Let’s embrace our intercultural connections—after all, it’s part of our national identity—while still respecting Asian forebears’ traditions.

At the Society of We Are Canadians Too, we want to inspire diverse communities to come together to develop participatory and inclusive Lunar New Year traditions. This time of year should be about building bridges to promote mutual understanding rather than simply celebrating someone else’s history.

Community engagement can take on many forms if we open up our imaginations. If we’re Born to be Free, let’s show it through original poetry, song, photography, and dance. Let’s embrace the concept of renewal from a social, educational, and even spiritual vantage point.

If we do this with curiosity, we can turn Lunar New Year into a truly intercultural celebration that forges deeper connections and new friendships based on genuine understanding.

Canada is a rich tapestry of peoples from around the globe. Inclusion builds resilience and helps us become more broad-minded. Lunar New Year offers an opportunity for all of us to emerge from our cultural silos and come together. Through our actions, we can demonstrate what Born to Be Free really means in the modern world.

Charlie Wu is general manager of the Society of We Are Canadians Too. Charlie Smith is editor of the Toronto Spark. Learn more about underrepresented artists on the Toronto Spark website.

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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society created Toronto Spark to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered on this land, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples whose arts and stories inspire us to bring communities together.