The Year of the Sheep Cometh
It’s typical, really, that just as soon as you’ve clawed your way out from under the simmering haze of your new year’s indulgences, an even newer year rocks up to slash the bindings on your inhibitions, flip the bird at the dying embers of your resolutions, and hurl you headlong onto the streets to party like it’s the Year of the Sheep.
The Lunar New Year is looming over us like a moon-faced drunk, ready to empty its stomach over the world and cover us in sticky, incandescent celebration. Largely an Asian holiday, it goes by many names, but is most popularly known as Chinese New Year. Our only sometimes abashedly multicultural planet means you can mark the occasion regardless of how far you find yourself from mother China.
Chinese New Year is February 19th. Make sure your body is ready.
These are the largest celebrations outside Asia, kicking off, shockingly, in Chinatown, which is bedecked in colours more garish than usual, its restaurants and shops offering special meals replete with traditional dishes you’d expect to find in Beijing itself.
Chinese New Year falls on a Thursday this year, so London’s main event has shifted to February 22nd. It’s a parade of floats flanked by Chinese lion and dragon teams, pouring down Shaftesbury Avenue on its way to the main stage in Trafalgar Square. Here, alongside shows and ceremonies, there’ll be a whole bunch of traditional arts, crafts, and food stalls.
Chinese new year trivia: “Xin Nian Kuai Le” is how you say Happy New Year in Mandarin.
Let’s calm things down for a moment. The Lunar New Year is fairly outdated in Japan, given that a couple of centuries ago they fell in line with the West by accepting the solar calendar system. The old traditions – ringing bells 108 times at Buddhist temples, money giving, postcard sending, traditional food munching – have long since shifted en masse to January 1st.
Yet there are still those that choose to toast the Lunar New Year quietly, getting together with their friends and family for a special meal and playing games. No, not drinking games.
New York City, USA
New York offers up celebration much in the same vein as London: parades, dragons, delicious greasy food, more stereotypes than you can shake a chopstick at. The main difference, this being the USA, is that it rains multicoloured confetti for several days until the streets become impassable, women and children disappearing down swirling rainbow drains while their loved ones flail and weep in futile attempts to save them.*
There’s also the opportunity to make your handwriting look a little less like the daubing of a break dancing hedgehog by attending a calligraphy workshop at Flushing Town Hall.
Chinese new year trivia: An important tradition in China is to clean every part of the house, clearing out old events in favour of the new.
The Vietnamese know the Lunar New Year as Tết. It’s often taken as an excuse to celebrate for an entire week, the streets filling up with people who set off firecrackers, hit drums, ring bells, and smash gongs, using the opportunity to be as catastrophically loud as possible in an effort to ward off evil spirits (who you’d think wouldn’t be such cowards, really).
There’s nothing subtle about Tết. Decorations are everywhere. Families traditionally display a New Year Tree and adorn it with the regional custom – good luck charm, or fruit, or origami fish, or something else entirely. Bigger cities like Ho Chi Minh City often feature huge street decorations, like giant lanterns and elaborate topiary. It’s quite a sight to behold.
It’s proximity to China has blessed Singapore with a high Chinese population, so it goes all out for Chinese New Year. Central streets are illuminated like temporary runways, street bazaars offer up a feast of traditional Chinese New Year delicacies, and nightly stage shows keep the crowds happy every night for the best part of a month.
On the day itself, thousands of people flock to Chinatown for the annual Countdown Party, with live performances from pop singers Google tells me are famous and enough fireworks to tear a hole in our dimensional plane and condemn us to a lifetime of servitude under the paws of terrible hell demons.
Chinese New Year trivia: The legend goes that the order of the Chinese zodiac was decided when the animals raced across a river. The ox was well prepared, but the rat rode on his back and made it there first.
Quietly inside your house
Get a takeaway in and watch Big Trouble in Little China on Netflix. Sorted. Happy Year of the Sheep, yo.