On the traditional Chinese Lunisolar Calendar, the 1st February this year marks the beginning of the new year and the start of the year of the tiger in the Chinese Zodiac.
Chinese New Year is a massive celebration that’s very important to Chinese people, leading to the largest human mass migration in the world as millions of people make their way home to celebrate the festival with their families. It’s custom to spend some time cleaning the house before the festivities to clear out all the bad luck of the year before and make room for good fortune. It’s also bad luck to sweep for the first few days of the new year in case you sweep any good luck away!
The Chinese Calendar
In the traditional Chinese Calendar, a month begins with a new moon and ends with the next, with the new year beginning on the second or third full moon after the winter solstice. There are 12 or 13 months in every year, with an extra month being added about every three years to make sure all the events on the calendar stay in the right seasons.
Chinese New Year Celebrations
On New Year’s Day, also called the Spring Festival, it’s customary to set off fireworks to frighten off evil spirits and enjoy performances by dance troupes, including lion dancers and dragon dancers. People decorate the windows and doorways of their houses with red paper decorations and Chinese poetic couplets, usually containing messages of good fortune. Older members of the family will also give children red envelopes containing a small gift of money, and bosses quite often give out new year bonuses contained in red envelopes too.
People travel home from all over the country to eat a reunion dinner full of symbolic foods with their families. A common dish included is dumplings, said to encourage wealth because of their shape, similar to an ancient Chinese coin. Fish is also eaten, as its name in Chinese sounds the same as the word for surplus and prosperity, and some is saved to be eaten the next day. The meal is all about symbolic foods, usually chosen for their resemblance to various lucky words.
In modern times, people are usually returning to work by the fourth day, but each of the days of the New Year period have their own meanings and rituals associated with them, leading up to the Lantern festival on the 15th which finishes the celebrations.
The London Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are the largest outside of Asia, attracting up to 500,000 people every year – and there are only 430,000 Chinese people living in the UK. They’re clearly popular! The streets of Chinatown are strung end to end with red lanterns, and a lively parade leads into Trafalgar Square where people can watch traditional dance performances and enjoy festive foods and fireworks all adding to the jubilant atmosphere.
There has also been a recent influx of Hong Kong Chinese migrants to the UK after the introduction of a new special VISA option for residents. After crackdowns by the Chinese government on pro-democracy protests, holders of the BNO (British National Overseas) Passport were given the opportunity to apply for residency in the UK, with a route to citizenship within six years. 300,000 people were originally expected to apply, and it’s estimated that over 80,000 Hong Kong residents may have already successfully applied for this VISA.