Chinese New Year: The Importance Of Sharing And Understanding Culture

As a South African-born Asian and Australian citizen currently living in the UK (try to digest that), I’m incredibly lucky to have experienced a smorgasbord of different cultures.

It seems perfectly normal to me that my family living room has an ancient Chinese painting placed next to a traditional African sculpture, and that my parents and I fire multiple languages at each other.

We swap between various cuisines, celebrate many holidays and are all avid travelers.

One of my favorite holidays is the Chinese New Year, which starts today. If you’ve never experienced the Chinese New Year before, do yourself a favor and head to your local Chinatown or any suburb with a large Chinese population.

Chinese New Year signals the beginning of the lunar calendar, and celebrations traditionally run for weeks.

Red posters with terms like "good fortune" and "happiness" are plastered all over doors; lanterns are hung, and of course, food and the dangerous Chinese white wine containing 60 percent alcohol is present in high volumes.

Festivities differ widely from country to country, and even from family to family. Most will spend the night before enjoying a big family dinner before heading downstairs to set off fireworks and firecrackers.

As the sun rises, it signals the start of various parades with lots of noise and dancers dressed as lions, traditionally to scare away evil spirits.

Families wear new clothes and get together for food and to swap red envelopes containing money as a blessing.

There is usually a gold coin hidden in a dumpling and the person who gets it (and hopefully doesn’t accidently swallow it) is thought to have luck for the year.

While it’s a heavily family-orientated holiday, cities often come alive with festivities for weeks.

The best party is right on the streets with parades, street parties, fortune tellers on the sidewalks and food trucks everywhere.

If you’re lucky enough to be in China, the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the New Year's celebrations is a must.

Imagine rows of streets covered in red lanterns that all get lit up at night and rows of stalls selling traditional Chinese objects and souvenirs.

It truly is a beautiful holiday, and it's one I’ve enjoyed even more by sharing it with my friends who are experiencing it for the first time.

Having everyone over to attempt to cook dumplings and stir fry while explaining the little traditions and quirks of the celebrations enhances my connection with China.

I love sharing that part of myself with my friends, and sharing it tends to involve learning more about other cultures, too.

Comments such as, "This reminds me of our celebrations," or "That’s exactly like this tradition we have," highlight the commonality between different cultures just as much as the differences.

During a time where culture, religion and background is so often associated with negative connotations and stereotypes, it has never been more important to openly share that part of ourselves.

You can tell people or show people, and they might nod and smile, but only when you involves others can they can start to understand. I’ve always loved experiencing other people’s cultures.

Learning to cook pasta from an Italian, discovering that moth in Latvian means "night butterfly" and singing songs around a fire with the locals at a mountain top village in Thailand have been just some of my eye-opening experiences.

Each person has his or her own traditions and history, and it’s such a privilege to both be able to experience and share these with each other.

So, this Chinese New Year, I hope everyone gets a little taste of what our culture is all about.

Like most others, it’s just about good food, good company and remembering the important things in life.

Culture has this wonderful way of bringing people together, and we should never forget that.