This was the first year since the late 90’s that I’d participated in any sort of Chinese New Year celebration. Back then we were living in Singapore where Chinese New Year was celebrated on such a grand scale that I can still vividly remember it, even though I was currently going through my teenage ‘if-its-not-the-mall-or-the-beach-then-I-don’t-want-to-go’ phase.
I remember standing along the edge of Orchard Road, waiting for the annual Chingay Parade to begin. Even if you were a mile from the parade’s starting point, you’d know when it began due to the deafening noise of the drums and clashing cymbals. (Traditionally, Chinese New Year is about celebrating wealth and good fortune for the new year. It is believed that making loud noises will ward off malevolent spirits that might try to take these away.) Then, led by the dancing dragon, a whole train of costume-clad dancers, acrobats, fire-breathers, and musicians would make their way down the street. It was an amazing spectacle, like nothing I’d ever seen. So when Mandy asked if anyone wanted to join her in celebrating Chinese New Year in London, I eagerly accepted the invitation.
The majority of the Chinese New Year events in London take place in Trafalgar Square, the West End, and Chinatown. We began our day in Chinatown, which was even more colorful than usual, all decked out in festive red lanterns. Food stands had set up their woks and deep fryers on the sidewalks, filling the streets with the scrumptious scent of fried chicken and rice. The roads were shut down to accommodate the throngs of people making their way down Gerrard Street, but that didn’t make getting from place to place any easier. Outside of Asia, London lays claim to the largest Chinese New Year celebration with record attendances of over 500,000 people. The whole area was buzzing with people and excitement!
Although not nearly as long and elaborate as what I’d experienced in Singapore, the parade was my favorite part about Chinese New Year in London. Kicking it all off was the Lucky Money God, the dragon meant to bring prosperity to the businesses lining the streets it dances its way through. Following closely behind were the lion-dancers and children dressed in horse costumes; this is the Year of the Horse after all. (Lexie’s year to shine, I suppose, since she was born in 2002!) Then it all ended, much too soon in my opinion, with dancers and children in dazzling costumes and makeup.
We had a great spot to catch the parade, just a few meters down the street from the Leicester Square tube station. We got there early to secure our spot, but quickly lost it when the crowds surged forward at the beginning of the parade. Luckily we’re small and pushy so we edged our way into the front again! Apparently BBC London thought we’d picked a great spot as well, as their reporter was right beside us conducting interviews in the middle of the parade. Mandy and I almost made it into one of the shots on their website. If you click on the second picture on the BBC’s story about Chinese New Year in London, we’re just to the right where it cuts off. I have an almost identical shot above from our vantage point.
After the parade, we should have immediately made our way to Trafalgar Square where the opening ceremony was being held because by the time we got there a while later, there were about 499,998 other people in front of us. After fifteen minutes of attempting to get closer to the main stage, we gave up and headed back to Chinatown where the crowds weren’t a whole lot better, but at least there was food in that direction! At this point, I met Cory and Lex and we broke off from the rest of the group and settled down for an ancient cultural Chinese lunch of…pepperoni pizza. In our defense, if we’d wanted Chinese food we’d have been standing in line for an hour to order it. Not okay when your tummy has been rumbling for a good three hours! I hope we’ll be around to do this again next year, and maybe trade the pizza for some dim sum instead!
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