On Sunday 10 February central London was alive with the sound of celebration. Despite the rain, thousands of people descended upon Trafalgar Square and Chinatown to celebrate the start of the Year of the Snake.
Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. Its origins are centuries old, and it is traditionally a time to honour deities and ancestors. The celebrations now stretch worldwide, including large multicultural cities such as London.
On Sunday morning, I headed out to join the crowds amongst the beautifully decorated streets of London’s Chinatown. I caught up with the parade on Charing Cross Road and delighted at the sight of performers in intricately detailed and colourful costumes, and marvelled at how elegantly they moved the mythical creatures along the parade route.
The streets were buzzing with the sound of traditional Chinese music and firecrackers, which are believed to scare off evil spirits and entice the God of Wealth to your doorstep. In every direction, I could smell scrumptious Chinese street food. Above me, the brightly coloured red lanterns adorned the skyline.
Later in the afternoon, I was lucky to witness a lion dance visiting businesses in Chinatown to perform ‘cai ching’. A jubilant reveller explained that the lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to businesses and is usually performed on important occasions, such as festivals, birthdays, and wedding ceremonies.
As I admired the celebrations, I was curious to learn more about the significance of the snake to Chinese culture. I stopped at a stall selling baked goods and asked a friendly woman if she could tell me more about the snake. She told me that the snake is one of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, and according to Chinese folklore these were the twelve animals to reach heaven in a race. A snake in the house is a good omen. It’s a sign of good luck, and those born in the Year of the Snake are said to be wise, beautiful and intelligent.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first Chinese New Year experience. What a brilliant way to bring colour to an otherwise grey February day!
Natasha H. is a digital marketer at the GLA who loves all things London and tweeting about them! This is her second post for the City Hall blog.