Highlights of Chinese New Year Celebrations in London 2015

Chinese New Year in 2015, which is the Year of the Goat, will be celebrated on 19 February in London. Every year the celebrations in London are the largest outside Asia and hundreds of thousands of people go to the West End area of the city to celebrate the event and to wish each other “Kung Hei Fat Choi” (or Happy New Year). The main areas of the city where these celebrations take place are Trafalgar Square, Chinatown and Shaftesbury Avenue. Chinese New Year celebrations are very popular with the Chinese communities both in London and in other parts of the world. Unlike in the West, the date of Chinese New Year varies every year, based on the lunar and solar calendars but it always falls between late January and mid-February. The Chinese calendar denotes each year by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.

Main Features

The salient features of these celebrations include a lively parade and performances on a main stage in Trafalgar Square by visiting artists from China. In various other locations of the city, you can find lion teams, traditional food and craft stalls and performances by local artists. In order to get the taste of this festive occasion, it is best to visit Chinatown which is renowned for an array of Chinese restaurants serving delicious dishes. You can also get involved in different types of activities and celebrations. In order to be able to visit Trafalgar Square for taking part in the Chinese New Year 2015 celebrations, the ideal thing to do is to stay at London City Suites by Montcalm as it has a central location in the city being in close proximity to Trafalgar Square and other venues.

The various activities to celebrate Chinese New Year in London and elsewhere in the UK include parades and public celebrations that include Lion dances in city centres and shopping malls; performances of traditional and contemporary Chinese dance and music; communal meals and tasting sessions of traditional Chinese and Chinese inspired foods; short courses and lectures on Chinese history, language and culture; exhibitions of art and crafts created by artists from China or of Chinese decent; and displays of lanterns and fireworks. These events can be attended by members of the general public and the atmosphere in them is friendly and welcoming as people from other communities get the chance to learn more about Chinese culture. Besides the celebrations in London, large public celebrations are also held in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Sheffield. Private celebrations are also held by student associations, families and community centres. These celebrations could be in the form of small parties at home or larger events that are attended by thousands of people. Special dishes are prepared and served to the guests to bring luck and happiness in the New Year.

Celebrations in London

Chinese New Year celebrations in London usually take place on the first Sunday after the start of the New Year and the venues are Trafalgar Square and Chinatown. The event is heralded by a grand procession through the streets that starts near Trafalgar Square and goes up Charing Cross Road and back down Shaftesbury Avenue before returning to Trafalgar Square. Traditionally red envelopes containing money or vouchers are handed over by the Money God. Since red is a symbol of prosperity and good luck, it is very popular during the Chinese New Year celebrations. Loud firecrackers are set off at 12 noon in the middle of Trafalgar Square with the objective of waking up the New Year’s dragon from its sleep and scaring away evil spirits. Thereafter, a formal ceremony takes place in which short speeches are given by British and Chinese officials regarding the relationship between Britain and China. The ceremony is usually attended by the Mayor of London but sometimes, he just sends a recorded message. At the end of each speech, the speaker wishes the crowd “Happy Chinese New Year”, which in Cantonese is Kung Hei Fat Choi and in Mandarin, it is Xin Nian Kuai Le.

Lion Dance

Officials take part in a ‘Dotting of the Eyes’ ceremony before the lion dance. A calligraphy brush is used by them to paint red ink on a new lion’s costume and the mirror on the lion’s forehead is dotted to awaken its spirit and give it life. The eyes are then dotted so that the lion can see and then the nose, tongue, ears, horn, back of head, spine and the tail are also dotted. Thereafter a red ribbon is tied on the top of the lion’s head symbolising courage and honour and showing that the lion is tamed. It is also a reminder to the lion to do only good deeds. The lion starts off with its eyes and mouth firmly closed. Once the lion is fully awake it performs a lion dance. If this is done well it is believed to scare off evil spirits and bring good fortune, happiness and prosperity.

Dragon Dance

 

This is followed by a dragon dance. Dragons are associated with good luck, long life and wisdom in Chinese mythology. The performers hold poles and raise and lower the dragon during the dance

One person carries a ‘Pearl of Wisdom’ on a pole and he entices the Dragon to follow him to the beat of a drum, as if searching for wisdom and knowledge. The barriers around the centre of Trafalgar Square are removed after the lion and dragon dances and the crowd is allowed closer to the stage to watch the other performances.

Each year members of one or two cultural groups (from one of China’s regions) are invited to come to London to perform on stage. These troupes include singers, with a wide range of styles ranging from folk to opera.

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