Chinese New Year in London: Ringing in the Year of the Rooster

Chinese dragon dance. Pic: Ying Kuen Tonmy Lam

London hosted the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia last weekend as thousands of people marked the first day of the Chinese New Year on Saturday January 28, also known as the Spring Festival in China.

The annual festivities, held in various locations in Central London, included a parade, traditional lion and dragon dance performances, live music and martial arts displays, as well as speciality food tasting and much more.

People from all over the world flocked to Central London to express best wishes and exchange blessings. The right words for this occasion are “Xin Nian Kuai Le”, Happy New Year in Mandarin, or “Kung Hei Fat Choy”, wishing you great happiness and prosperity in Cantonese.

A parade in Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue started at 10am. It then continued through the streets to Trafalgar Square.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming and other distinguished guests attended the celebrations. To open up the party, the mayor reminded Londoners of the contribution made by immigrants make to the UK which he said was “enormous” given that there are more than 150,000 Londoners of Chinese origin.

He said: “Every year at this time of the year, we celebrate Chinese New Year. We know the difference unity makes. We know the difference living together as brothers and sisters makes.”

He repeated his previous message issued after the Brexit referendum, “There are some people around the world who try to divide it and the message is this, London is open.”

As always, China Town was one of the hot spots during the celebrations. Restaurants, bars and cafes were packed with people attracted by diverse Chinese cuisine: everything from delicate Cantonese dim-sum to spicy hot pots accompanied by live music.

‘Flying lion dance’ performance in action. Pic: Ying Kuen Tonmy Lam

Apart from the Central London celebrations, local Chinese societies were also celebrating the Year of the Rooster in their own way.

Camden Chinese Community Centre was organising a fundraising variety show, which would welcome Chinese communities from other boroughs to come and celebrate together. The Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets however told ELL that they were not planning any events for this year due to the lack of funds.

People in China celebrate the Lunar New Year in various traditional ways, such as fixing the Door God Picture and putting up spring couplets and paper cut-outs.

It is a tradition during Spring Festival to pray for best wishes, longevity and peace. These decorations carrying blessings create a festive atmosphere.

Crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square for Chinese New Year festivities. Pic: Ying Kuen Tonmy Lam

The Reunion Dinner is another essential tradition for every Chinese family on the eve of the New Year. Lucky dishes that includes Nian Nian You Yu (Lucky Steamed Fish), Longevity Noodles and Tangyuan (Sweet Rice Balls) are on the menu.

Chinese people like to put the words of the same pronunciation with blessing words when naming dishes at New Year feast. For example, the Chinese word for “fish” sounds like “surplus”, which chimes with Chinese people’s belief that they can gain more in the coming year if they have managed to save something at the end of the year.

In the evening, typically families enjoy a meal while watching the New Year Gala on television.

Chinese people normally stay up late in the New Year’s Eve. ‘Shousui’ is the name of this custom, which means to stay awake normally until the end of the midnight firecrackers and fireworks display.

Giving red envelopes with lucky money to children is another custom. Money in red envelopes is believed by parents to bring best luck to their children’s study and life in the New Year.

Chinese New Year celebrations run for 15 days, ending on what is called the Red Lantern Festival on February 1.

Follow Jane Chou on Twitter.

Leave a Reply