THE BLOG

Chinese New Year in London

18/02/2015 17:16 GMT | Updated 20/04/2015 10:59 BST

It's a little odd celebrating Chinese New Year in London after 12 years of "much the same" in Beijing. This follows after 14-in-a-row celebrations in Switzerland...where they (at times) even struggle to get the characters right.

Chinese New Year in London must be very different from that in Switzerland or in China. In the former, this was pretty much a low-key event: there aren't a lot of Chinese there.

In China, we've everyone celebrating the event - millions, close to billions, make the trip back home just for that crucial dinner on New Year's Eve in the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

To many, getting the day off - or not - makes all that difference. Most of us in London aren't really getting 19 February 2015 off - although wherever there's a rule, there'll be exceptions.

In China, everyone's off - although quite unlike Christmas Day in London, the trains and buses still run, and there's more than one wifi café in major cities open on the first day of the Chinese New Year.(I was taken aback at how busy, indeed, they were on the first day of the Chinese New Year - as I found out in Beijing!)

For most of us, however, home is where we'll celebrate the festival. Chinese communities overseas will often come together, organise events, and families will stay up late on 18 February 2015 to greet the new year of the sheep/ram/goat (take your pick...).

It will be a fair bit different, however. Unless your Chinese family - as in the extended family - is based entirely in the US, or the UK, it will feel "you're missing some of your own folk". I remember when we had family and friends come over at our place in Beijing. We counted no less than 22 heads present. The home was boisterous, bursting with activity. Mom and the aunt were master chefs. Dad and the uncle were either debating what they saw on TV, or trying their hands on their newest "iteration" of cards. The grandparents were watching the New Year Gala in their own bit of the home.

For me, I'm here in London with just my wife. We'll probably have something "traditionally Chinese" in the late hours on the 18th. We might give Chinatown a visit - although we're not sure if going there on the first day of the New Year is a good idea or not. (Anyone who's tried Exit 2 at Leicester Square tube station knows exactly what I mean.)

But the one thing I know we won't escape is how the UK will make the average supermarket "more Chinese". I have been noticing the local supermarket (outside Chinatown) adding more Chinese elements (as they did over Diwali in Harrow). And whilst asking for all signs at Leicester Square being bilingual "just for the festivities" might be too much of a "Chinese (language) dream", reality is - the Chinese diaspora is here for the long term, and Chinese events are more and more celebrated.

I haven't seen too much in terms of the other Chinese festivals been celebrated outside China, however. They're selling chocolate bunnies for Easter (already!), but they might also be interested to note that the bunny is also a part of Mid-Autumn Festival in China, as is the full moon and the goddess Chang'e.

However, for the real China and its events, there's always the People's Republic. Just don't expect it to be full of people over Spring Festival (apart from the tropical-ish island of Hainan) -- we do get a week-long holiday, after all, and some of us might even be headed overseas (especially the younger generation)!

It will be my first time I've celebrated Chinese New Year in a city outside Greater China (and Asia, for that matter) with a significant local Chinese presence. There's more than what meets the eye in that part of London with the huge Chinese lantern by Wardour Street...