East London Celebrates Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year

17 February 2021

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is a huge festival among Chinese communities in London and across the world, with Lunar New Year also celebrated by east Asian countries including China, South Korea, and Vietnam and communities in London.

This year the new year falls on Friday 12 February 2021, culminating with the Lantern Festival on Friday 26 February 2021. As the first seven days of Chinese New Year end today, the Foundation reflects on the importance of celebration and the complexities of maintaining tradition during a national lockdown.

Not only does the celebration mark a new calendar year on the 12 February, the Lunar New Year,  marked the changing of Zodiac signs, or “Sheng Xiao”, a system dating back to the Qin Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago; a repeating 12-year cycle of animal signs and their ascribed attributes, based on the lunar calendar. Marking the first new moon, its title derives from the Lunisolar Calendars traditional to many east Asian countries which are regulated by the cycles of the moon and sun.

Legend has it that the Jade Emperor summoned all the animals to his palace in a “Great Race”, and the order in which they arrived determined the animal’s place in the zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. This year is the year of the Ox.

Whilst the celebration of Chinese New Year lasts up to 16 days, only the first seven days are considered a public holiday. Traditionally, we could expect to see hundreds of thousands of people descend to Chinatown in London’s West End, enjoying colourful parades, free stage performances and traditional Chinese food; wishing each other “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (Happy New Year in Mandarin) or “San Nin Faai Lok” (in Cantonese).

However, with most restaurants and businesses in Chinatown closed due to national lockdown restrictions, many people have found inventive ways of keeping tradition alive. In East London, The Museum of London is offering brilliant activities, from the chance to learn some words in Mandarin Chinese to puppeteering and dragon-mask-making live from Taiwan!

Though specific celebrations of Lunar New Year vary from culture to culture, one similarity connects them all: family reunions. It is tradition that everyone should return home for New Year’s Eve dinner. In modern China, most elderly parents live in rural villages while their children work in the cities and as such the migration back home is called “chunyun”, or Spring Migration. So how do communities manage the complexities of maintaining family traditions during a global pandemic? With a sprinkle of creativity!

ITV interviewed a 63-year-old father who said he will “follow the traditions as much as we can” this year, with a plan to hand traditional red packets “hóng bāo” to his children by pretending to give them a red envelope over zoom whilst simultaneously sending money via bank transfer.  The money in red envelopes is also known as “yā suì qián”. Literally, it is “money to anchor the year(s).” It is also known as “lucky money” or “New Year’s money.”

So in the spirit of celebration, why not get in touch with your loved ones and plan how you might anchor your year? There are some still some fantastic opportunities for virtual celebrations to be had:

  • 21 February: Take part in Burgh House’s Facebook Live Chinese New Year festival, featuring calligraphy, kung fu and arts and crafts.
  • 15 February-30 April: Enjoy an eclectic programme of online exhibitions, performances, screenings, comedy and more, during the Chinese Arts Now 2021 Festival.

Or perhaps you can discover your Chinese zodiac signs here together?

Wishing you good fortune for the year ahead.


East London community connections


Newham Chinese Association


Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets


Hackney Chinese Community Services Ltd

London Hackney Community Chinese School


Waltham Forest Chinese School


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