Celebrating Chinese New Year in Paris: 2020 Guide

Chinese New Year Dragon in Paris
Chinese New Year Dragon in Paris. Philippe LEJEANVRE/Getty Images

If you're looking for something colorful and relatively unusual to do on a winter trip to Europe, Chinese New Year in Paris certainly fits the bill. The capital has a large and thriving Franco-Chinese community whose cultural influence grows stronger with every passing year. In the cosmopolitan Belleville district, southern Paris near Gobelins, and the district near the Centre Georges Pompidou, different festivities are on offer during the new year period, which generally falls between January and February.

Parisians of all stripes eagerly throng on the streets of the capital to take in a cheerful procession of dancers and musicians, vibrantly-hued dragons and fish, and elegant flags embossed with Chinese characters. Bustling restaurants selling dumplings, noodles and other traditional fare are packed to the brim with locals and tourists.

Meanwhile, after-hours festivities include special theatrical and musical performances, film festivals and other events. This can be a truly memorable experience-- one you might well want to incorporate into your winter trip to the city. 

2020 Marks The Year of the Metal Rat

In China, the New Year is the singularly most important annual celebration. Unlike its Western counterpart, which always falls on the same day, Chinese New Year changes every year, following a special rotating calendar. Each year corresponds to a Chinese animal sign and is believed to take on the flavor and "character" of that animal. Astrology is a major part of Chinese culture and is rarely regarded as mere cocktail party chatter as it often is in the West.

2020 is the year of the Metal Rat. In the Chinese zodiac, the Rat is associated with the virtues of ambition, intellectual prowess, reliability and quick-wittedness, and foibles including nervousness and unscrupulousness. 

2020 Celebrations: Street Parades Around Paris

Chinese New Year procession in Paris near the Marais.
 Pixabay/public domain

In 2020, Chinese New Year officially begins on Saturday, January 25th, with major celebrations to take place in the weeks that follow in various areas of the city. Precise dates will be announced soon: check back here later for more details.

Main Chinatown Parade: February 2nd, 2020

The biggest and most popular of the annual parades, held in Paris's 13th arrondissement near Metro Gobelins, will kick off at approximately 1:30 pm on February 2nd. The parade is scheduled to leave, per tradition, from 44 avenue d'Ivry (Metro Gobelins), winding through Avenue de Choisy, Place d'Italie, Avenue d'Italie, Rue de Tolbiac, and boulevard Massena, ending at Avenue d'Ivry in south-central Paris. Get there early to get a good spot for picture-taking!

Interested in celebrating the New Year a bit earlier? The district will host a variety of shows, concerts, vibrantly costumed performances, and conferences on topics such as Chinese medicine starting in late February. See this guide for details (in French, but you can use Google Translate if need be).

Marais District Parade and Festivities

Marking the beginning of the year of the Metal Rat, a parade and other festivities in the Marais neighborhood will kick off on February 3, 2020- following the ceremonial "opening of the dragon's eye". The cheerful procession of dancers, drummers, dragons and lions will wind through major streets of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements (districts) of Paris, including Rue de Temple, Rue de Bretagne, Rue de Turbigo, and Rue Beaubourg, just a block or two away from the Centre Georges Pompidou, housing one of the city's most important museums of modern art and cultural centers. 

Festivities are set to continue in the district through the 8th and will include colorful performances, art workshops, martial arts classes and exhibits.

Belleville Parades

In the northeast Belleville neighborhood, which also includes a large Franco-Chinese community, a parade will leave from Metro Belleville in the late morning (the precise date has yet to be announced). This one kicks off with the traditional "opening of the dragon's eye" ceremony which should be-- forgive my pun-- eye-opening!

From around 3:00 pm on the same day, and back near the Belleville Metro station, more traditional dances, martial arts demonstrations, and other events will animate the area. Make sure to grab some delicious and warming soup from one of the many Chinese restaurants in the area-- or even consider enjoying some traditional Vietnamese Ph'o (noodle and beef soup) at one the many always-crowded eateries nearby.

Participating streets/parade route: Boulevard de la Villette, rue Rebeval, rue Jules Romains, rue de Belleville, rue Louis Bonnet, rue de la Présentation, rue du Faubourg du Temple.

Celebration Highlights

Chinese New Year parades in the French capital are famed for their elaborate decorations (red lanterns, grinning dragons, lions, and tigers, bright orange fish) and for their somewhat boisterous cheer, which usually involves small firecrackers that leave a faint scent of smoke in the air.