Lunar New Year –  Year of the Dog (Source: City of Parramatta)

The celebration of the Lunar New Year has long been part of the Parramatta region and community. Lunar New Year is one of Parramatta’s most popular annual events. On 16 February, Parramatta  will welcome the Year of the Dog.In 1898, the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate writes that the “Chinese New Year” was celebrated in “real celestial fashion” on Saturday, 22nd January and Sunday, 23rd January[1]. The paper notes that there was “the usual junketing and display of jimcracks and firing of squibs.” Unfortunately, it is also noted that during the festivities a “number of lads invaded the Chinese gardens” and “played great havoc among the melon patches, which were made a wreck”. Of the wider community, the paper remarks that “poultry-raisers only regret that the Chinese do not have a New Year about every month, for business was good with them on Friday”.

The use of poultry in New Year festivities is again remarked upon by the paper, this time on January 29, 1898. The paper states that George Sing, of Wetherill Park, was shot in the leg whilst visiting his neighbour, Mr James, with the intention of purchasing some poultry for a “Chinese New Year feast”[2]. George Sing was apparently met by Mr James’s son, a “lad of about 15”, who was “shooting sparrows or other small game”. Apparently George Sing “got in the line of fire” and the boy “fired the gun” with the result that “about 40 grains of shot entered the Chinamen’s leg”. The wound was of such seriousness that George Sing had to be taken immediately to the Parramatta District Hospital. He was treated by Dr. Bowman, who was able to remove the shot from his leg, and was subsequently discharged on “the high road to recovery”.

The description of fireworks was a theme of reporting of celebration festivities. On 20th February, 1901, the paper writes :

Yesterday (Tuesday) was the Chinese New Year’s Day, a fact crepitatingly announced by myriad volleys of crackers.[3]

In 1928, the paper ran the title “Chinese New Year – Feasts and Crackers”, describing the day as being celebrated with “considerable vim and activity by the Celestials”[4].  The paper describes the feast, and the extension of hospitality throughout the community:

At each of the different gardens and other properties, feasting was the rule, and many delicacies dear to the heart of the Eastern race, such as roast duck and green peas, sucking pig, pork, nuts, ginger, etc. in addition to palatable liquid refreshment were in evidence.

Hospitality on such occasions is characteristic of the Chinese, and many “friends” were made welcome.

Fusillades of crackers at brief intervals was a sure sign that the New Year had arrived and was receiving a proper welcome.

The celebration was done well, and without stint.

There was, however, some confusion as to the nature of the Lunar New Year. For example, in 1898, the paper is quite dismissive of year designation, writing “…and the year two million and something (according to Johnny’s reckoning) must have had a fair start”[5], although there is a shift away from this in later reports. For example, in the 1911, the paper wrote:

The Chinese New Year was celebrated by the Chinese community on Monday. It was the third year of the reign of the child Emperor, and 2462 years after Confucius.[6]

In 1922, a more detailed report of Chinese New Year festivities is provided by the newspaper, offering insight into festival and ceremonial practices of the community during the period. However, it is important to note the date – 9th April 1922. This is very late, given that the Chinese New Year period began on January 28, 1922. It appears that what the paper has mistaken for New Year’s celebrations is actually an example of the community celebrating the Qingming festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, where Chinese people visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors. The description is as follows:

Quite an extraordinary gathering was held in Rookwood Cemetery on Sunday last, when over 700 Celestials assembled to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and to give their departed friends who are interred, a good feed and a fitting send-off on their long journey through unknown spheres. Those who took part in the ceremonies turned up in all sorts of vehicles, from the humble market gardener’s cart to the sumptuous motor car. All parts of the country, including the city, for miles around were represented, and from beginning to end there was little or no abatement in the conduct of the peculiar ceremonies which lasted for several hours. Outside of the general assemblage the procedure was for a number of Chinese to hunt for a departed countryman’s grave. Having found it the grave was covered with many articles of food and drink. This was followed by an incantation and a fusillade of fire-works, the latter presumably to keep evil spirits away. There were many instances of the kind described, and the ceremonies were carried out with complete satisfaction, no doubt to the participants. The Chinese also made the occasion a great feast day amongst themselves. There were roasted pigs, little and big, poultry and fruits of all kinds. While liquors flowed freely. And the fireworks! It is safe to say many thousands of “crackers” were exploded, and the many small boys, who were amongst the interested onlookers, had envy in their hearts. If the spirits of the Chinamen, who are buried in the cemetery were invisibly present, they must have approved the lavishness with which their mortal friends entertained them.[7]

Neera Sahni, Research Services Leader, City of Parramatta, Parramatta Heritage Centre 2018

Reference:

[1] Smithfield and Fairfield. (1898, January 29). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 10. Retrieved  on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85837849

[2] A chinaman shot. (1898, January 29). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 2. Retrieved on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85837827

[3] Chips. (1901, February 20). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 2. Retrieved on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8582650

[4] Chinese New Year. (1928, January 27). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 7. Retrieved on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107097782

[5] Smithfield and Fairfield. (1898, January 29). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 10. Retrieved on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85837849

[6] Chips. (1911, February 1). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 3. Retrieved on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85987633

[7] Chinese New Year’s Day. (1922, April 15). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 6. Retrieved  on 13/02/2018 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103313036