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How to celebrate the Year of the Dragon in Toronto

Look out for lion dances, lanterns and plenty of food: today marks the start of the Year of the Dragon.

There’s plenty to take in around the city as Toronto communities from different backgrounds mark the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by many Asian communities.

It’s a time for families to come together, share food and celebrate the year ahead, said Alan Lam, chair of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto (CCCGT).

If the Chinese Zodiac is accurate, there’s plenty to celebrate.

“The Dragon symbolizes action, energy, and a lot of positivity,” said Lam. “So it’s going to be a good year.”

From dances to dinners to concerts, here’s how you can join in this weekend’s celebrations.

What’s happening across the city

Many restaurants serving Asian cuisine will have specials this weekend, and some bakeries and grocery stores will have red candy and snack boxes available, a Chinese tradition for the occasion.

With Asian communities spread throughout the GTA, there are events everywhere this weekend.

A gloved hand holds the lid of a wooden steamer on a stove, revealing about 10 dumplings cooking. The stove is in a restaurant kitchen.
Dumplings, like these ones being cooked at a restaurant in Chinatown, feature prominently in Lunar New Year celebrations for the Chinese community, says Alan Lam, chair of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto. (Ethan Lang/CBC)

The Markham Museum, Scarborough Town Centre and the Yorkdale Mall all have various activities for the whole family, like musical performances and lion dances. Lantern displays will run through the month at Mel Lastman Square in North York and Woodside Square in Scarborough.

A Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration is going on all weekend at the Small World Centre in the Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood.

Across town, the Toronto Public Library’s Parliament Street branch is hosting a Korean Lunar New Year story time, with a reading in Korean, along with family friendly songs and activities.

The CCCGT is hosting a reception Saturday afternoon at its Scarborough headquarters and will close the two-week celebration with performances and a dragon lantern display on the evening of Feb. 24. Lam says he expects upwards of 600 people from around the neighbourhood to attend.

Downtown events

Downtown, Toronto’s cultural centres are getting in on the party too.

TIFF Lightbox is hosting a free arts fair Sunday at 1 p.m., followed by a  screening of the 2019 Chinese-American film The Farewell.

Performers put on a traditional lion dance performance in a convenience store. They are wearing costumes. There are four lions.
Lion dance performances, like this one in Regina, will be part of celebrations around Toronto. (Kung Fu Regina)

Just down the road at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is bringing in special guests for a festive show Tuesday night featuring performances of the Butterfly Lovers Concerto, Song of the Pipa and other festive works. Ottawa native Mark Rowswell, better known to his Chinese audience as Dashan, will host.

The Royal Ontario Museum is throwing a Lunar New Year party next Friday, complete with DJs, dancing and a light projection show.

The Dragon Ball, an annual benefit gala for the Yee Hong Community Wellness Foundation, is taking place Saturday night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Chinatown festivities

Then, of course, there’s the Chinatown Lunar New Year festival, “the most sizeable and most sought after event” of the Lunar New Year in Toronto, according to Chinatown BIA chair Tonny Louie.

A bus stop sign in front of a mall advertizes the Year of the Dragon celebrations in Toronto's Chinatown.
Chinatown’s main Lunar New Year festivities are taking place at the Dragon City Mall, pictured here behind a bus stop ad for the event, and Chinatown Centre. (Ethan Lang/CBC)

Two days of celebrations will take place at the Chinatown Centre and the Dragon City Mall, including the traditional lion dance, a luncheon of Chinese dishes and a mah-jong tournament. Admission is free and events take place Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The festival will also wrap up a year long naming contest for Chinatown’s Mural Lane. There will be a draw for prizes, and the winning name will be passed on to the city of Toronto for approval.

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