Dragons, dumplings and dance parades

Chinatown, London

There are 10 things you need to know about celebrating Lunar New Year in the UK says Sam Hsieh.

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Lunar New Year is just around the corner, and just like the name suggests, it is based on the lunar calendar, celebrated across Asian countries, not just China—countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, etc. Here are a few things that you need to know about this big holiday and the celebrations that accompany it.

What year are you in? Say goodbye to the rabbit and say hi to the dragon  

Some people believe in star signs, but in the East, there is a different system—the Chinese zodiac signs which are centred around different animals. Each year has its own zodiac sign, changing every year to the next one. Most countries share the same set of Chinese zodiac signs, except Vietnam—there’s no rabbit in Vietnam, but a cat instead.

Chinese Dragon

New Year’s Eve - family is what matters most

New Year's Eve is the most important time during the Lunar New Year, as it’s the day when the whole family gathers together to have the reunion dinner. Traditionally, families will go visit the father's side of the family on this day, but more and more people are taking turns, especially with the new generation.

Make sure you stay up on New Year’s Eve  

I loved this day when I was a kid since it was the only day I could stay up past 11 pm. Once past midnight, every household would set up firecrackers to celebrate the new year. Additionally, some families use this time to worship their ancestors—mostly expressing gratitude for the year they've had and praying for another good year. To show our gratitude, we light incense and put food out on a table as an offering.

Forget presents; red envelopes are better

Instead of giving presents, we give red envelopes filled with money for the Lunar New Year, which can be more practical. There are also some tips and taboos about the amount of money that can go in the red envelope—never have an odd number such as 3, 5, 7, and you can never go wrong with the number 6. Most importantly, avoid the number 4, as the sound of 4 in Mandarin is close to death, which can be seen as a bad luck number.

Red envelopes

New Year’s greeting  

On the new year day, everyone will have to leave the house and visit other relatives or just have a day out somewhere. This is a bit different from what I find British families do at Christmas, who usually prefer to stay in with some drinks and some good food. It symbolises bringing some good luck into the household when you’re out travelling. In Manchester, there will be red lanterns hanging on some streets in the city centre which look beautiful at night.

Dragon dance in Chinatown  

If you want to experience the proper Lunar New Year atmosphere, make sure you pop by Manchester Chinatown. There usually will be a dragon dance parade each year; you definitely can’t miss out this year as it’s the year of the dragon.

Chinatown Manchester

Write some spring couplets to get the bad vibes out  

Besides the dragon dance, you can also try writing your own spring couplet in Manchester Chinatown. A spring couplet is a red vertical message to stick next to the door, you may have seen them around and wondered what they were. Having spring couplets on your door is supposed to kick out all the bad vibes and bring good luck in; can you sense a theme here?

Good food is a must  

Food is such a crucial part of the Lunar New Year. Some dishes that people usually have include a fish dish, symbolising ‘surplus every year,’ or a chicken dish as it has a similar sound to ‘family’ in Taiwanese. Hot pot is also a dish that is typically seen on the New Year’s Eve dinner table—as the table is usually round, symbolising reunion and completeness. Lastly, dumplings are a common dish to have as well—some people will wrap a coin in the dumplings, similar to how some families do in the west with Christmas pudding, and whoever gets that one means that they’re having good fortune for the rest of the year.

Always wear new clothes for the New Year  

Wearing new clothes is a must for Lunar New Year as it represents a new year and a new start. It’s because in old times people could only get their earnings at the end of the year after the crops were sold.

Spring cleaning  

Last but not least, spring cleaning is definitely a thing and usually needs to be done before New Year's Eve. It’s mostly due to expecting guests and relatives, but it also has the meaning of getting rid of the old bad luck and embracing the new year.

Sam Hsieh blogs about Manchester food at Food Junkie UK

Header Photo Credits: Visit Britain/Andy Hall

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