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Chinese New Year Celebrations in London

The Year of the Dog is here

14 February 2018 Suzanne Frost

Chinese New Year is the most important annual festival for Chinese people around the world and the London celebrations are the largest festivities outside of Asia.

The Chinese community is one of London's oldest, dating back to the 17th century when Britain began trading with China and Chinese sailors came to London on board East India Company ships. In the 1960s, a second big wave of immigration came from the booming Chinese restaurant trade. British soldiers who were based in the Far East during the war had developed a taste for Chinese cuisine and the new Asian restaurants around Soho became popular. Today, the area is known as Chinatown, turned into a major tourist attraction and the Chinese New Year celebrations are an annual fixture in the London calendar.
 
Though fixed it is not: Unlike the western New Year, which firmly begins with the stroke of midnight on 31 December, the Chinese calendar is based on the lunar cycle, so the new year starts between late January and earlier February, this year falling on 16 February. But more importantly than the moon, the Chinese calendar follows an agricultural pattern, with the New Year celebrations marking a period of rest for hard working farmers before a new cycle of growth and production would begin.


China Town, Soho by night
 
In Chinese astrology, each zodiac year is associated with an animal sign, 2018 being the Year of the Dog. Man’s best friend is regarded as an auspicious animal. If a dog happens to come to a house, it symbolizes the coming of fortune and people born in dog years are supposed to be communicative, serious, and responsible. A dog year is also believed to bring good luck to marriages.
 
Ringing in the New Year is a full two-week ritual in China following a set of customs passed down over generations to welcome health, wealth, and good relationships over the coming year. For example, the 28th day of the last month on the lunar calendar—two days before the Lunar New Year—is a designated day of cleaning. In a symbolic way, dusting and discarding things that aren’t needed anymore is a way of saying farewell to the old year. But get all your the cleaning done before the new year starts because it is believed that any sweeping, washing, or mopping during the first five days of celebrations will drive your good fortune away. On the sixth day you can throw away old clothes, take out the trash and clean your home to send away the ghost of poverty. Wearing red, offering red presents and decorating the house in all things red is also supposed to bring good fortune.
 
The night before the Lunar New Year is the reunion dinner, one of the most important meals for Chinese families. “Lucky” foods are served believed to bear good luck and wealth. The Cantonese, for example, like to eat a whole chicken to symbolize family togetherness. A whole fish is served, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year. Noodles represent long life and must not be cut. In northern China people traditionally eat dumplings that are prepared by the whole family together and eaten at midnight.  The half-moon shaped Jiaozi are a symbol of wealth and prosperity because of their resemblance to ancient Chinese money.


Dumplings at London Cookery School
 
This year, the London celebrations will take place on 18 February , beginning with the famous parade at Charing Cross. Over 300,000 people celebrate this popular festival each year sampling from the food stalls in Chinatown or watching the parade’s dragon and lion dances, firecrackers and fun.
 
While Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross and Leicester Square are the main areas of action with performances and entertainment by artists from China, there are activities all over London to celebrate Chinese culture and help everyone slip into a lucky Year of the Dog. The National Maritime Museum offers calligraphy workshops, Kung Fu and dance performances from Nanjing Little Red Flower Dance Troupe.  The National Gallery organises dog drawing and puppy puppetry for children. The Horniman Museum has Chinese mask workshops, while at the Museum of the Docklands you can learn Teakwondo and traditional ribbon dancing. The China Exchange displays traditional Han clothing and full hair and make up makeovers, interactive dog therapy sessions and tea ceremonies. There are origami workshops at Greenwich market and at the Royal Festival Hall, the Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir and the Philharmonia Orchestra will perform classical and Chinese traditional works lead by conductor Long Yu.


Lion dances at the National Maritime Museum (c) visitlondon


If food is really where it’s at for you, why not try a dumpling making master class at the London Cookery School or the School of Wok to really experience the tradition of cooking and sharing food as a community. Or of course choose from one of Soho’s countless Chinese restaurants. They will be packed for new Years so you might want to reserve.
 
Finally, don't miss the spectacular fireworks display on 18 February lighting up Trafalgar Square at 6pm.
 
Chinese New Year festivities in London start on 16 February – 25 February
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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