by Duncan Murray
Rain clouds did not dampen the spirit of celebration surrounding Sydney Harbor on Friday night, with fireworks and cultural displays marking the launch of Lunar New Year events.
Australia's most recognizable landmarks, the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge provided a breathtaking setting for the celebration, with the bridge's arches glowing red and pink, and spectacular art installations outside the Opera House marking the year of the pig.
"Of course it's the year of the pig, so we have our hero pig at the Opera House," Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told Xinhua.
"We love this event. We are a very multicultural community, 45 percent of our population was born outside Australia, predominantly from Asia, and we celebrate that. We have the oldest living culture with our aboriginal people and now we have a wonderful multicultural community," Moore said.
Central to Sydney's celebrations were 12 giant lanterns designed by Asian-Australian contemporary artists depicting the zodiac symbols, including a five-meter-tall matrix style steel pig, an elaborate eight-meter stack of monkeys, an electric sheep, and a six-meter-tall inflatable ox.
Many other works were commissioned to decorate the city, one of which, a flying pig chandelier, was designed by Ruth McDermott from the University of New South Wales.
McDermott, an Australian artist, said she understands the festival to be about food, family, new beginnings and designed her piece to reflect those values, as well as to include a healthy dose of Aussie geniality.
"I know it's the Spring Festival and it's about many things, renewal and people go to see their families, I think it's great," McDermott said.
Sydney's Lunar New Year celebrations will span across most of February, with the Australian summer still in full swing and people very much in the mood to celebrate.
One of Australia's favorite ways to celebrate the Lunar New Year is with dumplings, so many dumplings in fact that the city will hold a world record attempt on Feb. 5, the first day of the Lunar New Year, for the largest ever Yum Cha meal, a traditional Cantonese-style brunch with tea.
For those with a smaller appetite, there are also pop up stores appearing across the city and numerous fine dining events bringing Asian cuisine to hungry Sydneysiders.
To work off all those dumplings, the harbor will host the biggest dragon boat regatta in the southern hemisphere on Feb. 9 and Feb. 10, with 3,000 paddlers and over 100,000 spectators from around the world likely to take part.
Sydney continues to increase in popularity as a destination for Chinese visitors, with almost all of them visiting the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
A lucky group of Chinese guests had the opportunity on Friday night to witness the commencing of events from the top of the bridge's span, taking in fireworks, a lantern ceremony, and a vocal performance from Sydney-based singer, Gina Jiang, who dedicated the performance to her family back home in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
"As a Chinese I feel very proud... I'm also proud that I can sing on top of the bridge to all the Chinese tourists and hopefully my song will bring them some festival vibe while they're overseas spending time with their families," Jiang said.
Away from the grandiosity of the harbor, Lunar New Year celebrations originated in Sydney as a small celebration of families in the city's Chinatown which to this day remains the heart of the festival.
Lion dancers perform on weekend evenings and young and old take part in gift giving and make the most of the atmosphere and variety of foods available.
The Lord Mayor Moore, an enthusiastic participant in the events, will visit Chinatown on Lunar New Year's day to host a red packet handout and to meet and greet the locals.
"Our Australian community and our visitors really celebrate all of this so it's just a wonderful celebration and a very important part of the agenda in Sydney," Moore said.
"And it's harmonious. People that don't have an Asian background learn all about the cultures, so it's a celebration for our Asian community. And it's a wonderful educational experience for the rest of us," Moore said.