Every year, cities around the world ring in the Chinese New Year with lively parties, parades and events. While the celebrations are biggest in Asia, London also hosts a a huge gathering to help welcome the new year. The festivities are perfect for visitors of all ages, with lots of family-friendly activities, and it's a great way to learn more about Chinese culture. London's annual celebration takes place throughout the West End and Chinatown, and includes numerous activities and performances. Here's what you need to know.
History and Background
Chinese New Year is the biggest festival of the year in Chinese communities, which typically takes place between late January and mid-February. Each year of the Chinese calendar is represented by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac: the Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, and Rabbit. 2020 brings the Year of the Rat, which symbolizes luck and wealth. The celebrations typically last two weeks, with 2020's Chinese New Year beginning January 25 and ending February 4. The annual Lantern Festival takes place directly following Chinese New Year.
In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year, which is sometimes referred to as the Spring Festival, people clean their houses, repay debts, buy new clothes and have their hair cut. A celebratory meal is held on the eve of the new year, with many traditional dishes served, and fireworks and firecrackers are let off to see in the new year. With the start of the new year, Lion Dances pass through the streets to bring good luck to the households and businesses they visit. The drums, gongs and cymbals that accompany the Lion Dance are used to scare away evil and bad luck.
London has held Chinese New Year celebrations for over 20 years. The event, started by the London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA), was originally a small, local celebration that has since grown dramatically in size. The festivities now include a Chinese New Year parade, lion dances through Chinatown and a stage show in Trafalgar Square.
Where and When To Celebrate
London features the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. In 2020, the Chinese New Year festivities in London will take place on January 26 (the actual date of Chinese New Year is January 25). Celebrations take place across the West End, from Shaftesbury Avenue in the north down to Trafalgar Square, with the main stage performances in Trafalgar Square. Look for activities and food stalls throughout Chinatown and a parade, which kicks off on Charing Cross Road and makes its way down Shaftesbury Avenue to Chinatown. The parade usually starts at 10 a.m., with the other festivities continuing into the early evening. The family activities can be found throughout Leicester Square.
Things To Know
Because Chinese New Year is a free public event, it can draw very large crowds. It's best to use public transportation to get to the celebrations. There are several Tube stations nearby to Chinatown and Trafalgar Square, including Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross, and numerous buses serve the area.
If you hope to dine in one of Chinatown's popular restaurants, be sure to make a reservation well in advance. Many of the restaurants book up weeks ahead. Some of the area's favorite Chinese eateries include Café TPT, Baozi Inn, Four Seasons, Little Lamb and Shuang Shuang.
Red is considered a color of good luck, and the bright shade is a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations. To get in on the fun, be sure to wear your best red clothes (and dress warmly, since this is London in the winter). Rain gear and comfortable shoes are also recommended. Tradition also suggests that you buy something red for yourself or your house during Chinese New Year, so look for a souvenir in one of Chinatown's shops or in one of the street market stalls.
Because the events around Chinese New Year can be very crowded, London police recommend being mindful of your belongings and watching out for pick-pockets. Keep your valuables and cash in an inner pocket or a zipped bag. Have some cash already on hand so you don't need to stop at a busy ATM during the celebrations.