On Sunday February 10 London’s Chinese community will welcome the Year of the Snake. Sara O’Reilly fills you in on Chinese New Year in the capital…
Why does Chinese New Year matter in London?
The Chinese population in the capital isn’t huge but this is one of the celebrations that London’s taken to its multicultural heart. Since the festivities overflowed the boundaries of Chinatown to take in Trafalgar Square they’ve grown year on year and they’re now the biggest outside Asia.
What’s the festival all about?
Also known as the spring festival, it’s the most important of the Chinese celebrations. Myth and – especially – superstition combine with the tradition of family reunion, adding up to something that’s a cross between Thanksgiving and a non religious celebration of Christmas, with lots of food, decoration, colours and activities believed to confer good luck thrown in.
What’s with the snake business?
The Chinese calendar follows a 12-year cycle, with each year named after an animal. Each creature in the zodiac is associated with particular attributes – those born in the Year of the Snake are seductive, hardworking and generous. Or possibly introverted, insecure and jealous. It’s not an exact science, okay?
Okay, so what happens on Sunday?
Everything kicks off to a firecracker start at 10am, when a parade of floats winds its way from Trafalgar Square to Chinatown, finishing up in Rupert Street at 11am. At noon there’s the ‘Dotting of the Eye’ ceremony in Trafalgar Square to awaken the spirit of the Chinese lions and dragons that play such an important part in the celebrations. Then there are speeches from the president of Chinatown, Stanley Tse, and the Chinese ambassador, Lui Xiaoming. The streets of Chinatown are lined with cultural and food stalls and displays. Between 1pm and 5.30pm, there are performances on the small community stage in Shaftesbury Avenue as well as the main stage in Trafalgar Square.
What’s the line-up?
There’s Hong Kong-born singer-songwriter Emmy The Great, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’-winning tenor Paul Potts and the Chen Brothers’ spectacular Flying Lion Dance. Plus masses more music, dance and acrobatics.
In the late afternoon there’ll be an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the number of people dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ – that should be worth seeing. And, fittingly, since it was the Chinese who invented fireworks back in the seventh century, the day ends at 5.55pm with a pyrotechnic display in Leicester Square.
Chinese New Year celebrations take place in Chinatown and Trafalgar Square on Sun Feb 10 10am-6pm. Find out more about Chinese New Year in London.