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Monday, February 10, 2014

year of the horse

"Kung Hei Fat Choi" or Happy New Year! If you have been in London, or China for that matter, you will have heard this festive greeting over the past week.


Outside of China, the Chinese New Year’s celebrations in London are the biggest in the world, with some reports of up to a half a million people descending on London’s West End during the Lunar New Year. A parade of dancing dragons and horses (this year), was followed by the Dragon Eyes Dotting Ceremony and the Flying Lion Dance. The celebrations flowed from Shaftesbury Avenue to Trafalgar Square with the uninterrupted, ubiquitous popping of firecrackers to ward off unlucky spirits. 


Being the naïve Canadian that I am, I was wholly unprepared for the sheer number of people taking up each iota of space during last Sunday’s New Year’s Eve party. I squeezed (literally) out of the tube and up the stairs to alight (my new favourite 'tube' term) at Leicester Square along with thousands of others, joining up with the thousands already there. The performing acts all came directly from China; young and old, flowery and dragony; from traditional Chinese opera to children’s variety acts, the atmosphere was hopeful, happy, equine. And red.  


Red lanterns were strung over the streets like elegant, red yoga balls of all sizes; an homage to good health and prosperity. From red bracelets, red scarves and even red underwear (so I was told) Chinatown was radiantly glowing to signify good luck for the coming year.

This photo was taken with the mother's permission. I absolutely love both of their expressions. Priceless.
Like all big holidays, Chinese New Year is no different. Families come together, gifts are exchanged (red envelopes for the kiddies), and feasts are shared. What is different is that Chinese New Year lasts for fifteen days, always falling on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and culminating with a beautiful celebration called the Lantern Festival. Here paper lanterns, which the children have made, are illuminated under the full moon. They are then released into the sky as a way of saying goodbye to past selves and welcoming in new ones.


With over 80 vendors, restaurants and cafés, food in Chinatown is a big part of these celebrations. The sweet smell of sticky buns filled with curry chicken or fried pork followed me around like a beautiful lost puppy. Leafy-wrapped sticky rice dumplings bound in twine, mini spring rolls, and more sticky buns were laid out on street side tables for easy access. 


Doughy-smelling steam engulfed crepe makers as they cracked eggs onto thin pancakes baking on flat, round irons, with pots of fillings that I couldn’t recognize at the ready. It all looked, smelled and tasted (the sticky buns!) mouth-watering. The more patient folks stood in long lines waiting to get into the good dim sum restaurants.


So, now the Year of the Horse has been ushered in. Along with those of you born in the years 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, and 2002, the ‘horse’ babies born this year will be warm-hearted, energetic, clever and kind. They will be cheerful, talented, earthy and stubborn. They will seek out the limelight, like large crowds and will be interesting communicators. Sounds pretty good…maybe I should procreate this year. I also really like horses.


The only problem is (which I discovered while researching this post) is that I’m an Ox and great guy is a Dragon. While you all know that I’m a big fan of bovines (remember Lotti) and dragons sound cool, apparently according to the Chinese it is a bad match for a relationship. More specifically, the Ox and the Dragon "should avoid each other. Their relationship will be tricky." Duh. That is not news. I just always assumed it was tricky because he’s a boy, but no, it’s because he’s a dragon. 

Funny note, and I’m not making this up, the first thing I read about the Ox was: “The ox is huge. People often used the ox to indicate something big in size.” (Some people say I’m tall.) And, it gets better: “Dragons try to go for perfection, they are a little arrogant (a little?) and may feel blank about their future.” I think the Chinese might be on to something.


What I also love about the Chinese New Year, is its hopeful and positive feeling. No negative ‘I won’t eat sugar anymore’ resolutions. Instead, everyone works to get their house in order by the start of the year so that the rest of the year will be smooth sailing. Of course, superstition plays just a teensy part in that; making sure that debts are paid so that prosperity will pay you a visit. But, all in all, I think it is just a plain old good idea. Start the year off right; with a clean house, no debts, a sticky bun and a horse. Sounds perfect. Kung Hei Fat Choi!



Join me in London next year, because I won’t be missing next year’s celebrations on February 19, 2015…book your hotel now! Or maybe I'll see you in China!

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