Chinese New Year in London: How to Celebrate The Year of the Rat
London’s Chinese New Year Celebrations are Free and Fabulous
Did you know that London’s Chinese New Year celebrations are the largest outside Asia? This bright and colourful lunar festival brightens up grey and cold London skies and attracts thousands of Chinese visitors to the capital. Better still, they’re free.
Chinese New Year is a festival characterised by superstition, traditions, dragon dances and parades. As you’d expect festival food takes on great significance, too. Delve into the traditions behind Chinese New Year and find out about the special Chinese New Year events taking place in London over the coming days.
When is Chinese New Year?
Based on the lunar and solar calendars, Chinese New Year usually falls between late January and early February. In 2020, New Year’s Day falls on Saturday 25 January but the celebrations don’t end there. Chinese New Year is, in fact, a 15-day festival.
In China, it’s known as the ‘Spring festival’ or ‘Lunar festival’. It’s so significant that the holiday results in the largest human migration. In the days leading up to the festival, it’s customary for over 385 million people in China to leave the cities and go back to their rural communities to celebrate with their families.
Celebrate Fertility & Intelligence With the Year of the Rat
Each Lunar New Year marks the beginning of a new zodiac sign. There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and they rotate on a 12-year cycle. In 2020, it’s the Year of the Rat which is thought to symbolise fertility and intelligence.
People born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008 were all born in the Year of the Rat. When your own zodiac sign repeats, as it does every 12 years, it’s considered unlucky so it’s customary to fend off bad luck by wearing red – perhaps a red tie, red string bracelets or sexy red underwear.
Chinese New Year Traditions – How to Prepare for Chinese New Year
There are important rituals leading up to New Year’s Day. Everyone cleans their homes from top-to-bottom but no-one does this in the days following Chinese New Year. Sweeping the floor or putting out the rubbish symbolises ‘throwing away your fortune’. It’s even unlucky to get your haircut during Chinese New Year as this is akin to ‘cutting off your fortune’. More popular is the tradition of buying a new set of red clothes which symbolises luck and wealth.
Take a walk around London’s Chinatown and you’ll see many people wearing red. Welcoming you from restaurant windows are rats looking more like cute mice.
What do People Eat for Chinese New Year Dinner?
The main celebration is the extravagant reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. It’s like Christmas lunch. There are 8-10 symbolic dishes with each one representing a symbol of wealth, abundance and completeness.
There’s usually a roast – a suckling pig or chicken but it must be whole because it symbolises unity and ‘happiness for the whole family’. A whole fish symbolises abundance and ‘may there be surpluses for every year’ whereas noodles represent long life.
Scallops are gold coins, fried golden dumplings are gold ingots signifying wealth. Seaweed also represents wealth whereas prawns are laughter.
Children often receive red envelopes with money inside for good luck. Be careful though on the first day of New Year. Don’t hold a knife as you don’t want to cut away your good luck.
When do London’s Chinese New Year Celebrations Take Place?
Every year London’s Chinese New Year celebrations are organised by the London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA). In 2020, London’s main celebrations take place on Sunday 26th January. They are concentrated in the area around Trafalgar Square, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, Leicester Square and Chinatown.
Where is London’s Chinese New Year Parade?
The New Year Parade kicks off at 10 o’clock in Charing Cross Road and snakes its way along Shaftesbury Avenue to London’s Chinatown ending at around 11.45. It will feature the largest gathering of Chinese Lions and Dragons in Europe
What Celebrations are taking place in Trafalgar Square?
The main event takes place throughout the day at Trafalgar Square. You can watch performances on the stage from 11 o’clock when there are screen shows and a thanksgiving ceremony. These are usually followed by firecrackers, speeches and the Lions’ Eye-Dotting Ceremony at 12pm.
From 12.50 there are traditional dragon and flying lion dances and colourful stage performances including Chinese dance and music shows, martial arts displays, Chinese pop hits and a varied line-up of artists from China.
If you get hungry there are enticing street food stalls dotted around the square.
What’s happening in Chinatown?
From 12pm to 6pm, expect lion dances and Chinese zodiac animals, the perfect opportunity for selfies. Don’t forget to tag your images with #CNY London.
Celebrate Chinese New Year in Covent Garden
This year, Covent Garden will be joining in the celebrations. On Saturday 25 January, Red Farm, an award-winning modern Chinese restaurant, will introduce a special Chinese New Year menu curated by famed New York dim sum chef, Joe Ng. Tuck in to dishes including shrimp and spinach dumplings with seared scallop and caviar. While you’re there, roll the red dice to win prizes from a red envelope such as a glass of champagne or a delicious dinner for two.
Shop For Chinese New Year Gifts
Many of the boutiques and specialist shops in Covent Garden are producing special Chinese New Year Gifts. Tea lovers should make a bee-line for Mariage Freres, a luxury tea house and one of our recommended places to go tea tasting in London. To celebrate the date, France’s oldest tea house will be launching a special blended tea infusion presented in a hand-made turquoise tin inspired by traditional pagoda towers. Macaron fans can buy a limited edition red box of 12 macarons from Laduree.
Where to Eat Chinese Food in London
Foodies seeking Michelin-starred restaurants in London, should try A. Wong in Pimlico or Yauatcha in Soho. For a dim-sum feast or traditional crispy duck pancakes in the heart of London’s Chinatown, book a table at Plum Valley or Imperial China London. If dining with a night time view of London is your thing, try Hutong on level 33 of The Shard.
If you’re on a budget, check out Bun House a popular takeaway on Soho’s Greek Street. For £2.80 each, you can buy baozi buns like ‘The Pig’. It’s filled with sweet and sticky char siu pork and tastes delicious.
You May Also Like:
The Chinese Takeaway Cookbook by Kwoklyn Wan. It has more than 70 recipes for Chinese takeaway favourites.
Tips For Celebrating Chinese New Year in London
- Kids can visit the family zone in Leicester Square for family-friendly entertainment, calligraphy, Chinese music and dressing up in traditional outfits
If you’re interested in martial arts, head to Charing Cross Road where there will be special martial arts performances throughout the day
Wear red to invite good luck for the coming year
Buy something red for your house or for yourself to bring luck
Greet festival go-ers by saying “Happy New Year” in Cantonese “San Nin Faai Lok” (pronounced san knee fy lock) and in Mandarin is “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (pronounced sing nee-ann koo-why ler)
It’s traditional on New Year’s Day or the day after for Chinese families to ‘climb high and gaze far’ to invite good luck and wealth for the year ahead. Why not visit the London Eye or the Shard for a skyline view of the city?
The Foodie Travel Guide
Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.