Celebrating Lunar New Year in the UK

Red Chinese lanterns

Did you know that one sixth of the world’s population celebrates the Lunar New Year? It has become one of the world’s most celebrated festivals and is traditionally a time to honour deities and ancestors, as well as welcoming prosperity and luck for the new year.

The UK is proud to celebrate diversity and difference, and as an international student in the UK you will be able to discover different cultures and meet fascinating people from all over the world. Wherever you are, especially across larger cities and on university campuses, you’ll realise that Lunar New Year is widely celebrated in the UK. In fact, did you know that the largest annual celebrations outside of Asia take place in London?

Read on for some Lunar New Year facts.

1. The date changes every year.

Most East Asian countries follow the lunar calendar which is based on the moon’s orbit around the sun. Lunar New Year therefore falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which can occur anytime between 21 January and 20 February.

2. It’s celebrated over a 15-day period.

Lunar New Year spans 15-days, closing with the Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival marks the first full moon of the new lunar year. Take a look at the most important dates for the Lunar New Year this year.

3. It began with the legend of the ancient beast.

Lunar New Year began with the legend of an ancient, mythical beast named Nian 年獸 (the character for ‘year). Each New Year’s Eve Nian was said to descend upon villages, eating livestock, crops and sometimes even villagers themselves. To keep themselves safe, villagers would board themselves up into their homes or flee into the mountains.

Until one year, a sage appeared in the village just before Nian’s arrival. Rather than hiding, he drove away the rampaging beast. He then revealed himself to be a god and taught the villagers that Nian was afraid of the colour red, loud noises and fire. From then on, the villagers learned to display the colour red outside their homes, crackle burning bamboo and light candles. Since then, according to folklore, Nian was never seen again.

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Street decorated with Chinese lanterns

The streets of many UK cities are decorated to welcome in the Lunar New Year

4. 2022 is the Year of the Tiger (from 1 February).

People born in the Year of the Tiger are predicted to be brave, competitive, unpredictable, confident and to display great levels of willpower. The Year of the Tiger is said to be about making big changes.

5. The ‘Great Race’ was the beginning of the Chinese zodiac.

The Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals that first appeared in the Zhan Guo period (over 2000 years ago). Legend has it that the Jade Emperor challenged all of the animals in the Kingdom to a ‘Great Race’. The winner was whoever arrived at the palace first.

6. The tradition of the lucky red envelope.

At Lunar New Year, it’s tradition to give the gift of red envelopes known as 紅包 (hóngbāo) containing money to children - these symbolise good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. Now red envelopes are also given to friends, family, colleagues and many other relatives. The importance of the hóngbāo is the envelope itself, rather than the money inside, as the red colour symbolises good luck and prosperity in East Asian cultures.

7. Don’t wash or cut your hair.

It is tradition to leave your hair as it is on the first day of the New Year. The Chinese character for ‘hair’ is the same as the first character in the word for ‘prosper’. So, washing or cutting your hair is a taboo as it is seen as being symbolic of washing away your fortune and dramatically reducing your chances of prosperity in the year ahead.

Cleaning of any kind is also not allowed. Generally, people celebrating will have cleaned their home and thrown away their rubbish before midnight.

8. The UK is home to the largest celebrations outside of Asia.

The majority of large cities — especially those with impressive Chinatowns — from London, to Liverpool, to Glasgow, hold dedicated festivities.

As a student in the UK, you’ll have plenty of options — from sampling some of the best dumpling restaurants near you, to watching fireworks and lights displays, and going to see dragon dances. Though London’s world-famous Lunar New Year parade, which usually includes Chinese acrobats and traditional dances, has been cancelled this year you can still follow #CNYLondon on social media to enjoy an online programme of events and activities from 31 January.

Follow #CNYLondon on social media to enjoy an online programme of events and activities from 31 January.

Find out more about how different holidays are celebrated in the UK here.

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