Italian and Chinese people may have many cultural differences – not least the argument over who invented spaghetti/noodles. But they do share their preference for red to welcome the new year under good auspices: Italians have red underwear on to attract good luck, as they toast in the New Year’s Eve; the Chinese also wear red for good luck during their New Year’s Celebrations.
Bright red objects – toys, ornaments, and lanterns, of course – decorate the streets of Chinatown in the two weeks leading up to the beginning of the New Lunar Year. This year, it fell on 31 January, though the main events in London happened on Sunday 2 February.
This is the Year of the Horse. According to Feng Shui specialist Raymond Lo, this is the year when people will tend to stick more to their principles. Good news? Well, it depends, of course, entirely, on your principles!
For me, it was an opportunity to apply one of my (Western) New Year’s resolutions: get the camera out more and write more! So here we are.
London’s Chinatown is always a cornucopia of colour and scent. On the first Sunday in February it exceeded itself. The smell of sweet and sour sauces oozed out the restaurants, luring more people to queue for a table at one of the many eateries on Gerrard, Rupert and Wardour Street. We didn’t want to waste any time eating, so just grabbed a couple of sweet buns from a bakery. The streets were very crowded, and, being a small person, it was sometimes difficult for me to see what was going on. I took advantage on my travelling companion’s sturdy shoulders a couple of times to take some of the shots of the Lion Dance.
A particular variation of this performance, the “cai-qing“ (“plucking the greens”) involving dancers or – more specifically on New Year’s Day – martial art performers – takes place on the streets of Chinatown on the day of the celebrations. Two performers under an elaborate costume danced around the streets, bouncing, jumping, and shaking their booties. The lion gets particularly frisky at the sight of green lettuce hanging from shop entrances.
It’s good luck for the business if the lion successfully plucks it. It’s good luck for the lion, too, as attached to the leafy bunch of greens is also a red envelope containing more precious kinds of leaves for the performers.
Red envelopes containing “lucky money” are also, apparently, handed out by friends and family to children, who will find them under their pillows, and single people, to wish them good luck with their romantic lives in the new year. Well, may the year of the horse be a year full of love, then, and, a little money, which never does any harm!
What I like about Chinese New Year is the way that all things Chinese seem to spread well beyond the boundaries marked by the Gates of Chinatown.
The major performances, in fact, took place in Trafalgar Square, where large crowds converged, throughout the day, to watch circus acrobats and traditional Chinese dances. One wonders what Lord Nelson would have made of all this; he certainly had a good vantage point to watch the festivities from.
It was a good day out and, whatever people may think of the failures of multiculturalism in Britain, it did feel like the whole world had turned up to this party.