What is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year marks the beginning of a new lunar year (as dictated by the traditional Chinese calendar, which is lunisolar). Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice (the first day of the first lunar month) and ends on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.
In 2019, Chinese New Year commences on the 5th February and ends on the 19th. However, in London, the main celebratory events take place on the 10th February in Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and throughout the West End.
The Chinese zodiac is based on a twelve-year cycle, with a different animal to signify each year. 2019 is the twelfth year in the most recent cycle: the ‘Year of the Pig’. Happily, the pig is known for its jolly nature, and the chubby little animal is thought to bring good fortune and prosperity. Here’s to 2019!
Chinese New Year: The Parade
It’s impossible to think about Chinese New Year in London without mentioning the annual parade: the biggest event in the New Year calendar, and the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia.
This year, the parade takes place on Sunday 10th February, and will begin from 10 am with a vibrant procession of floats down Charing Cross Road. The parade encompasses Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and Shaftesbury Avenue and the festivities will continue until 6 pm. The spectacular, colourful celebrations include dancing, martial arts, arts and crafts, and more.
If you attend, don’t miss the eye-catching lion or dragon dancers as they pass. These traditional dances are performed in costume: the lion dance is performed by two dancers, whilst a dragon dance requires many people to hold onto poles to manoeuvre the dragon’s train. Have coin or two at the ready, if you can: offering money to the lions or dragons is meant to bring good luck!
Chinese New Year: The Cuisine
If you don’t manage to spot a lion at the Chinese New Year parade, head over to Park Chinois in Mayfair by the 21st February. The glamorous Chinese restaurant is jazzing up their usual (and delicious) menu with a host of themed events, including lion dances and a Chinese drummer, as well as special ‘Year of the Pig’ dishes and drinks.
Or, for something more traditional, stick close to Chinatown. This historic central London district is atmospheric at any time of year, but during Chinese New Year there’s magic in the air – and a selection of fantastic restaurants to try. You’re not limited to Chinese food in Chinatown, either; though Asian cuisine reigns supreme, there are some terrific non-Chinese options on offer (such as cafés serving Israeli cuisine and tapas restaurants!).
If you’re looking for an authentic bite in Chinatown, though, our first recommendation would be Dumplings’ Legend. From ‘soup dumplings’ (xiao long bau) to fried turnip cake, the menu is full of mouthwatering morsels to try. For something a little more modern, head over to hip ‘hotpot specialist’ Shuang Shuang: a fun, communal eating experience in which diners are encouraged to pick their food items from a conveyor belt. Finally, leave China behind and take a trip to Korean restaurant Olle for some of the best barbeque Chinatown has to offer. Once there you can grill up a storm on your very own hotplate and enjoy authentic, tasty treats like Korean bulgogi (‘fire meat’).
Fancy creating a Chinese feast in the comfort of your own kitchen? The Duke of York Square’s Fine Food Market has got you covered: a mainstay for keen cooks at any point in the year, the 9th February sees the addition of a special Chinese food market in celebration of Chinese New Year. Visitors can sample Chinese delicacies and choose from the finest regional ingredients whilst enjoying traditional entertainment.
If You Have Time…
A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without taking in one of the city’s many museums; and fortunately there are several museums putting on special events in honour of Chinese New Year.
Between 2nd and 3rd February, the Museum of London Docklands (a stone’s throw from the original London site of Chinatown, which was located in Limehouse) will be running a family-friendly Chinese festival. Once you’ve had your fill of ribbon dancing and martial arts, head over to Cutty Sark, at which you can participate in an art workshop and learn about the ship’s voyages to China (as part of their weekend festival, which also takes place on 2nd – 3rd February).
Keen to put on your dancing shoes? If you’re an enthusiastic performer, the National Maritime Museum is the place to be on the 9th February. Visitors can try their hands (or should that be feet?) at dragon dancing and watch theatrical performances by acclaimed troupe Shanghai Theatre Company.