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Gong Xi Fa Cai: Celebrating Chinese New Year in London

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.

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

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!

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

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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Celebrating Chinese New Year In London

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  • Ashley | Domestic Fashionista
    February 13, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    So fun! It is on my to do list to celebrate Chinese New Year in San Francisco sometime! Love all the festivities!

  • Emmymom
    February 10, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    lol- a traditional fair or pizza, totally made me laugh. What a fun parade and event to be at, though yes the crowds might have got to me at the end.

  • Jessi @2feet1world
    February 10, 2014 at 9:32 PM

    Beautiful photos! It looks like an amazing experience :)

  • Dong Shao
    February 10, 2014 at 6:48 AM

    I was in Kuala Lumpur on 31st Jan. Chinese New Year is celebrated there as well and it was completely unexpected for me. I thought that it would be celebrated only in China and some of the other major tourist cities around the world. It was really a lovely experience.

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 10, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      Kuala Lumper – what a lovely place! I’ve been there twice, but never around Chinese New Year. I’m sure they did a great job with the festivities there!

      It is funny when a country celebrates a holiday that you wouldn’t expect them to. That’s how I felt when we saw that London was putting on an American 4th of July celebration. That one was especially ironic seeing as the whole point of the holiday is celebrating America’s independence from Britain. :)

  • Melanie Fontaine
    February 8, 2014 at 10:20 PM

    I wish I could have experienced this for myself! My boyfriend went to the ceremony at Trafalgar Square and told me how crazy it was and it definitely made me jealous that I don’t live in London! ;)

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 9, 2014 at 3:35 PM

      Maybe one day! Have you ever thought of moving here? Or are you waiting on the boyfriend to move to YOU? ;o)

      • Melanie Fontaine
        February 9, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        We’ll both move back to Germany this summer! :) We were actually already dating before we moved to different countries to study abroad and always knew that this was just going to be a brief phase! :) But yes, I would love to live in London one day at least for a bit – at least if my profession allows it. Law isn’t exactly moving friendly unfortunately.

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    February 6, 2014 at 9:54 PM

    Great photos Sarah. You saw so much more than I did. I just saw a lot of peoples heads and heard some dancing in the distance! Pizza is always a good decision ;)

  • Stacie Stamper
    February 6, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    I love the festive feel of it all. You are getting exposed to so much culture and I think that is cool!

  • Mandy Southgate
    February 6, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    Aaah, I realise now that I should have been asking you of the significance of everything we were seeing! I really enjoyed it but can’t tell lions apart from dragons! Your photos came out really well, especially the close up of the man with the long beard.

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 7, 2014 at 8:39 AM

      I love that guy’s stick-on beard! It cracks me up! :o)

      I’m no expert on Chinese New Year symbolism, but I still remember a few things! Next year we’ll go just for the opening ceremony and get there early for a good spot. You’d love the “official” lion dance. It’s pretty cool! (Or at least it was in Singapore…)

      • Mandy Southgate
        February 7, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        That’s a good idea! We can then escape to somewhere for a cream tea (or big English breakfast, whichever we feel like!)

  • Jo
    February 6, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    Looks like loads of fun!

  • Robert Wareham
    February 5, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    Ohhh I’m so jealous! I couldn’t go this year. But a Chinese friend of mine did have a party and that was fun. I’m glad you had a good time! :)

  • Charlotte MacDonald-Gaunt
    February 5, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    So colorful and lovely :o) Xx

  • Debbie @ Buisson International
    February 5, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    I had such a horrible time :( it’s nice to read that at least a few people enjoyed the day! My post is coming tomorrow…

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 6, 2014 at 10:08 AM

      Oh no! I’m so sorry! I’ll have to check out your post to see what happened. The only thing I was sad about was not being able to see the opening ceremonies in Trafalgar Square – there were just too many people to get close enough. Otherwise, we had a pretty good day!

  • rorybore
    February 5, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    All the bright colours — so fantastic! And I love all the lanterns. I had some out on my patio all summer long and I just loved them. I’ve never seen anything like this – it would be cool fun to see live.

  • Alex Fahey
    February 5, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    Chinese New Year in Honolulu was always crazy. I loved going down there.

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    February 5, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    I love how the streets are decked out!! You are definitely brave to deal with those crowds!

  • Katrin
    February 5, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    Haha, so funny that you got pizza! :) But thanks for sharing these pictures, it looks like so much fun and I would have loved to be a part of it!

  • Sara Louise
    February 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    All of the red and splashes of bright colors is so festive! You captured the day beautifully :)