Year of the Dragon to be a good year for China, Edmonton

The dragon is the only creature in the Chinese Zodiac that isn’t real.

What does this mean for the year ahead? Who knows? Celebrants attending this weekend’s Year of the Dragon Carnival at City Centre Mall and in Churchill Square should at least know this: China itself IS the dragon. The new year begins Monday, Jan. 23.

“The dragon symbolizes all Chinese culture,” says carnival spokesman Stephen Tsang. “In the old days, the dragon represented the emperor, a majestic creature, strong, powerful.”

Metaphor alert: China is strong and powerful, too. The ‘70s and ‘80s were all about Europe and North America, Tsang continues, “and now everybody’s talking about how China is rising; they constitute a huge portion of the GDP in the world and,” he adds with a laugh, “everything we use is actually made in China.”

The dragon, meanwhile, “represents the majestic and stately characteristics that make it a great year for Chinese all over the world.”

Edmonton does not have the largest Chinese community in Canada – Toronto is first, Vancouver is second – but thanks to the Edmonton Public School Board leading the way for allowing bilingual schools with languages other than English, we have the biggest Chinese-English student base in the world outside of China, according to Tsang. The carnival, with features three days of festivities in cooperation with the Metropolis Winter Festival, is being co-produced by the Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Association – an important part of what makes the local Chinese community so colourful.

Says Tsang, “Our kids don’t have a lot of chances to be exposed to Chinese culture. Language and culture come hand in hand. If you want to know the language well enough you have to understand the culture side of it, too. Sometimes it’s hard to get that being in an English country.”

He reminds us that the colourful, insular nature of Chinese communities in Edmonton and around the world is rooted in ancient tradition. They had civilization when most Europeans were living in dung huts, invented gunpowder when others were fighting with pointed sticks, developed a rich lore of mythology and legend. The “food culture” is especially powerful. It’s rare to find a mini-mall that doesn’t have a Chinese restaurant, Tsang points out, and there at least four or five local Chinese restaurants that are famous around the world.

“The traditions and culture go back thousands of years and were  so powerful that they were really ingrained in all Chinese whether you live inside of China or outside,” Tsang says. “You have four of five major festivals during the year that remind you the culture is there. Chinese culture has a lot of colourful stories and legends behind them, which kids find interesting.”

Yes, it’s hard to find a kid who isn’t interested in dragons – majestic, strong, powerful and completely imaginary. It’s going to be a good year.

Free Year of the Dragon festivities run in the City Centre Mall and in Churchill Square Friday from 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. The “God of Fortune” parade happens Saturday at 11:30 a.m. starting from Churchill Square.