The Lunar New Year, often referred to as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, is celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the UK. People plan large-scale public and communal festivities, which can last up to two weeks.
Despite being a working day, the Lunar New Year falls on Saturday 10th February 2024. In the UK, most businesses operate during conventional business hours, and the Lunar New Year is not considered a public holiday. Large-scale public festivities and parades may occasionally cause minor traffic disruptions, especially in Chinatown and city centres. Some Chinese shops and businesses may have altered opening hours during the Lunar New Year.
Chinese communities across the UK publicly celebrate the first day of the Chinese year with parades, which often include:
- Lion dances at shopping centres and civic centres.
- Performances of traditional and modern Chinese music and dance.
- Communal meals and food tastings, featuring both traditional and Chinese-inspired cuisine.
- Short courses and lectures on Chinese language, culture, and history.
- Exhibitions of artworks and handicrafts by Chinese or Asian-American artists.
- Lantern and fireworks displays.
Most activities are enjoyable and open to the public, welcoming people from various backgrounds and offering an opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture.
Some of the UK’s largest and finest celebrations take place in:
- Chinatown, London, is the epicentre of the UK’s Lunar New Year celebrations. Each year, there is a parade starting on Charing Cross Road and proceeding down Shaftesbury Avenue towards Chinatown. Trafalgar Square also hosts food stalls, games, performances, and activities.
- Manchester, home to the largest Southeast Asian and Chinese populations in the UK’s Northwest and the largest Chinese population outside of London, typically hosts significant celebrations. The famous Dragon Parade starts at Piccadilly and winds its way to Chinatown, featuring opera singers, traditional dancers, and a 175-foot dragon.
- Liverpool, with the oldest Chinese community in Europe, integrates the Lunar New Year celebrations into the city’s cultural calendar.
- Edinburgh, in Scotland, known for its Hogmanay celebrations, is also a fantastic place to celebrate the Lunar New Year with a parade, dance, music, food, and events.
- Birmingham’s Bullring & Grand Central, the major shopping complex in the Midlands, hosts an extravagant Spring Festival celebration starting on Lunar New Year’s Eve and concluding in the evening on New Year’s Day.
Private celebrations are often held by families, community centres, and student associations, ranging from small gatherings to large events with hundreds or thousands of participants.
During the Lunar New Year, special meals symbolising luck and prosperity are often served. East Asian families in the UK begin their celebrations before the actual day, gathering on New Year’s Eve after long journeys to be together. Festival meal choices are influenced by the region of China from which people or their ancestors hail. Children receive lucky red envelopes containing money or coins, traditionally believed to help ward off evil spirits by keeping people awake all night on New Year’s Eve.
Red is a significant colour during the Lunar New Year, evident in the numerous red lights and lanterns with golden characters seen in cities. Wearing red clothing or buying red items for one’s home is believed to bring good fortune and wealth in the coming year. In the Chinese community, many people make an effort to wear red, often associated with fire and the warding off of evil spirits. Other symbols of the Lunar New Year include elements and animals from the Chinese calendar’s year-naming cycle.
How Should a Student Observe the Lunar New Year?
For Asian students studying in the UK, being away from home during this time can be challenging. Fortunately, most UK universities hold celebrations as a tradition to help students feel more at home.
- The University of Leicester distributes free fortune cookies and organises a modest procession on campus.
- The Confucius Institute at the University of Liverpool offers free calligraphy and painting classes.
- The University of Leeds fosters a sense of community by posting messages of encouragement and joy from its students, faculty, and alumni.
- The York Chinese Students and Scholars Association hosts a gala at the University of York.
The Lunar New Year has been observed for thousands of years. Occurring in China, which is in the Northern Hemisphere, between the December solstice and the March equinox, it is also known as the Spring Festival. In China, the Lunar New Year typically marks the start of a new cycle of planting and other agricultural activities.”
Jimby Casquete is a social media manager at Psychreg.