Three Disney Parks put very different spins on their Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year celebrations

01/28/2017 10:20 pm ET | Updated Jan 29, 2017

Today’s the first day of the Chinese New Year, a holiday that one sixth of the world’s population will celebrate with friends & family.

Mind you, not everyone will be celebrating the first day of the Year of the Golden Rooster in the exact same way. On the Mainland, Chinese New Year is kind of like Christmas & New Year’s all rolled into one. Which is why this weeks-long celebration takes on almost an epic quality with spectacular entertainments, festive decorations, and special holiday-themed food & beverages.

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Mickey-shaped lanterns dangle over the streets of Disneytown, the Shanghai Disney Resort’s shopping, dining & entertainment district.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, reflecting the 150+ years that this country was under British Crown rule, Chinese New Year is a shorter but still spectacular affair. Think more along the lines of a long Thanksgiving weekend where friends & family gather together for a unique blend of modern fun and ancient traditions. Only in this case, the party’s over after just three days or so of celebrations that include parades & giant fireworks.

Whereas in the United States (Where – because so many different countries & cultures celebrate this particular holiday – its preferred nomenclature is Lunar New Year), a conscious effort is made to make sure that this seasonal celebration is as inclusive as possible.

Keeping this in mind … Well, is it any wonder that Disney Parks & Resorts have taken very different approaches to the celebration of Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year at Shanghai Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park?

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Philippe Gas (He’s the one standing next to Goofy) — general manager of the Shanghai Disneyland Resort — presided over this morning’s Chinese Lion ceremony at that theme park.

Take – for example – how Shanghai Disney decided to kick off that Resort’s very first Chinese New Year. Earlier today, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy (who was dressed as the God of Good Fortune) were joined at the top of Mickey Avenue at Shanghai Disneyland by two traditional Chinese lions. Then Philippe Gas – the general manager of the Shanghai Disney Resort – dotted the eyes of these lions. Which then magically awakened these creatures, allowing the lions to spread good cheer & luck to both Guests visiting the Park as well as to the Cast Members who worked there.

Whereas Hong Kong Disneyland (because it wanted to convey a message of cherishing food on the first day of the rooster year) opted to temporarily shift its spotlight from “good show” to “good works.” Which is why the HKDL Resort invited Financial Secretary Paul Chan; Robin Hwang, executive director of Foodlink Foundation; Elli Fu, CEO and Founder of J-life Foundation and 60 women & children to celebrate Chinese New Year by joining them earlier today at a feast that had been made from ingredients which Hong Kong Disneyland had donated to the “Surplus Food Donation Program.”

Food also played an important role in today’s launch of Disney California Adventure Park’s Lunar New Year celebration. But because this theme park wanted throw a spotlight on the holiday cuisine of three different cultures (i.e., China, Korea & Vietnam) … Well, that then meant Paradise Pier’s open-air dining area (which had previously been themed as a Victorian beer garden) had to be transformed into the Lunar New Year Marketplace.

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Mulan’s Lunar Year Celebration travels through the Paradise Pier area of Disney California Adventure Park.

“We’ve decorated this portion of the Park in the traditional manner with lanterns & fireworks. And as Guests enter this space, there’s a variety of activities they can take part in,” explained David Duffy, the director of Creative Entertainment at the Disneyland Resort. “They can have their name written in Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese calligraphy. There’s also a wonderful tradition of this holiday that crossed all of these cultures of writing your wishes for the coming year on pieces of paper and then either hanging these wishes on trees or on a wall that we’ve erected which stretches from Paradise Garden Grill all the way to Goofy’s Sky School.”

And throughout the day through February 5th, Chinese, Vietnamese & Korean entertainers will be performing in the Paradise Pier bandstand. There’s also a photo location where Guests can get their picture taken with Mulan & Mushu from Disney’s “Mulan.” And speaking of Disney’s first Asian Princess, this Chinese cultural icon is prominently featured in “Mulan’s Lunar New Year Celebration.” Which parades several times daily through this portion of Disney California Adventure Park.

But as fun as these daytime activities may be, it’s when night falls (and – appropriately enough – the moon rises) that Disney California Adventure’s Lunar New Year celebration really kicks into high gear. And that’s because of the “Hurry Home – Lunar New Year Celebration.” Which is this brand-new six minute-long show that’s being presented nightly out ahead of that theme park’s waterfront extravaganza, “World of Color.”

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The “Hurry Home - Lunar New Year Celebration” show lights up Paradise Lagoon at Disney California Adventure Park.

“What really inspired ‘Hurry Home’ was that Michael Colglazier – president of the Disneyland Resort – attended the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland back in June of last year. And as part of the opening ceremony of that theme park, a spectacular show was projected onto Storybook Castle which featuring original music by Tan Dun. Who’s the contemporary Chinese composer who’s probably best known in the West for creating the score for ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,’ “ Duffy continued. “Anyway, Michael comes back from Shanghai and said ‘We have to do something like this out over Paradise Lagoon using the ‘World of Color’ technology. What an amazing opportunity this would be for Disney California Adventure. Especially as part of that theme park’s Lunar New Year celebration.’ “

Mind you, given that Disneyland’s Creative Entertainment team only had six months to pull together this new projection show, they had to hurry “Hurry Home” along. But the finished product – which skillfully mixes authentic Chinese painting techniques with start-of-the-art CG – has already won the hearts of many members of Orange County’s Asian community. Largely because it celebrates one of the big traditions of the Lunar New Year. Which is that this is the time of year when you’re supposed to reunite / connect with friends and family.

And speaking of projection shows … The folks at Shanghai Disneyland found a fun way to put a high-tech spin on an ancient tradition. Which is – that if you want the gods to honor your wishes for the coming year – you must first write them on the side of a floating lantern and then send that lantern aloft.

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CG lanterns featuring Guests wishes for the coming year float across the surface of Storybook Castle as part of Shanghai Disneyland’s Chinese New Year Celebration.

The way that Shanghai Disneyland has updated this tradition is that – during the day – they collect various Guests’ wishes for the Chinese New Year. Then – at night – after “Ignite the Dream – A Nighttime Spectacular of Magic and Light” has finished exploding over this theme park, CG lanterns which are now covered with those previously collected Guest wishes are now projected onto the sides of Storybook Castle as a special “Kiss Goodnight” for all those who chose to visit Shanghai Disneyland during its very first Chinese New Year celebration.

And speaking of mixing tech & tradition … Hong Kong Disneyland officials managed to turn one of the most important rituals associated with Chinese New Year (i.e., the giving and receiving of lai see, or red envelopes. Which is a Chinese tradition symbolizing good luck and prosperity) into a clever way to promote that theme park’s newest attraction.

To explain: As Guests come through the turnstiles at Hong Kong Disneyland, they’re handed a very traditional red-and-gold envelope containing a chocolate coin. The envelope features Iron Man’s helmet (which is also red & gold) on the front and a logo for the “Iron Man Experience,” the first Marvel-themed Disney ride in any Disney Park, on the backside. This 3D motion simulator attraction opened in this theme park’s Tomorrowland section back on January 11th.

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Both sides of the lai see that are being handed to Guests as they enter Hong Kong Disneyland during that theme park’s Chinese New Year celebration.

So there you have it. Three different Disney Parks, each of which put their own unique spins on the celebration of Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year. Which – to hear Laurie Jordan (who leads the global creative entertainment organization for Disney Parks) – is just fine.

“Since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Disney parks around the world have offered our Guests the perfect place to come together to celebrate holidays and special occasions, from Christmas and Halloween,” Jordan said. “So if the Chinese New Year experience is slightly different for Guests at each of our world-class destinations … Well, that’s what makes it fun and part of what makes us Disney.”

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