Chinese New Year is the most important holidays in China and to Chinese people all over the world. In fact almost 20% of the world’s population celebrates Chinese New Year. London, of course, has such a large and infamous Chinatown that it is worth a visit this time of year.
Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival, marking the end of the coldest days of winter and welcoming spring and what it brings along: planting and harvests, new beginnings and fresh starts. It is a ceremonial day to pray for a prosperous planting and harvest season.
The myths and stories around Chinese New Year are what make it so fascinating. For example, the myth of Nian, an evil spirit who was warded away by fireworks, resulting in more fireworks being set off on New Year’s Eve than any other night. Gifts of red envelopes with money are given, and there are many taboo behaviours to prevent losing good luck and fortune for the year ahead. But it is the Zodiac which people most associate with CNY. 2019 sees the year of the pig, but there are 12 zodiac animals altogether. Each animal has different behavioural traits associated with them.
London has a large and bustling Chinatown, that, of course, hosts incredible CNY celebrations this time of year (and fantastic food throughout the rest of the year!). What you might not have known is that the current Chinatown, nestled between Soho and the Theatre District is not the original home of the Chinese community in London.
From our previous post about the origins of Chinatown in Liverpool, London’s China town similarly was based around the Docklands in East London due to the number of Chinese sailors that would frequent the docks. So supermarkets and restaurants started to pop up in the Limehouse area, before reports of slums and opium dens. Unfortunately, the docklands area sustained severe damage during the Blitz of World War II, and in the 1970s Chinatown transitioned to the Soho area.
London’s Chinatown doesn’t have any officially defined size. It is anecdotally considered to encompasses Gerrard Street, the bottom half of Wardour Street, Rupert Street and Rupert Court, a section of Shaftesbury Avenue and Lisle Street, Macclesfield Street and Newport Place, Newport Court and Little Newport Street.
In 2006 the new Chinese Arch was unveiled where it remains a central feature of the area. The street signs are bilingual, and there are lots of restaurants and supermarkets packed into this small area. You can also find a few souvenirs focused shops too. You will also find stone lions, contemporary art sculptures and Chinese gates as you explore the area.
A contemporary, vibrant and energetic enclave of London, and with 40 days of celebrations ahead, it is well worth a visit!