Chinese New Year is China’s most watched festival for its cultural and historical significance and is celebrated all over the world.
It marks the beginning of spring according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Chinatown, next to Leicester Square, is usually packed with people, music, dances, and Chinese lanterns lining the streets.
This year it’s a completely different story.
Of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, 2021 is the year of the ox.
And instead of celebrating in person, the Covid-19 pandemic means that Chinatown is celebrating the lunar new year with the digital campaign #StrongAsAnOx.
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The program is packed with many virtual events, such as cook-cook sessions and a comic book narrative about which traditions are usually maintained.
As we know from various Zoom Pub tests, a virtual event is never as good as the real one.
But we spoke to a person who is deeply rooted in Chinese culture, even though he was born and raised in the UK, why this year will be different from any other.
KaWai (Kelvin) Lee, an 8th generation Kung Fu Sifu (master) from North London, has been involved in Chinese New Year celebrations since childhood.
(Image: KaWai comes from a long line of martial arts masters)
The 38-year-old has not lost a trace of spirit since his youth.
KaWai said: “From a young age I was firmly convinced that no matter where I live, my cultural roots should never be forgotten.
“Since I was young, I and my Pak Mei troupe have been fully involved in the annual Chinese lion dance parades across the country.”
The colorful and energetic lion dance will not take place this year because KaWai and his troupe cannot be seen.
It is one of the main festival traditions for the Chinese community, dating back thousands of years.
The lion dance would bring good luck and drive away evil spirits.
Usually two dancers perform – one to control the head while the other forms the lion’s back.
“Prior to Covid, our dance troupes were fully booked during this period and I would get involved with the wider community at public events across the country.
(Image: Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash)
“We’re not going to perform this New Year.
“It really makes me sad as it is a huge passion of mine outside of my professional life and I will really miss bringing a smile and happiness to our audience.”
“No Chinese New Year lion dance is like Christmas without Santa Claus!”
The lion dance is a way for KaWai to promote Chinese art and culture while giving a blessing to the community.
“I’m proud of my work,” he said.
(Image: KaWai Lee)
KaWai and his extended family usually celebrate 16 days, a time full of delicious dishes, happy color, and lots of social gatherings with red envelopes exchanged.
“The ‘Lai-Sees’ (red envelopes) have to be moved! Lai-Sees are a traditional monetary gift given to children in the New Year to symbolize good luck and ward off evil spirits,” said KaWai.
Although KaWai won’t be able to perform this year, he remains happy with his kids, wife, and grandparents, with whom they formed a bubble in support of childcare.
“I imagine the lockdown will have an impact on most Chinese families across the UK, but hopefully technology will allow them to video call each other and celebrate a little differently this year.
KaWai didn’t forget to mention what food they would be eating this year, which was drooling to say the least.
“Every food has a favorable symbolism based on how it looks or how the dish is pronounced,” he explained.
Some common examples are fish dishes (魚), which symbolize excess.
(Image: Photo by Van Thanh on Unsplash)
The sticky New Year’s cake (‘nin-goh’ 年糕) symbolizes achievements that can apply to education, career and business.
Sweet rice balls (‘tong-yuen’ 湯圓) symbolize family togetherness.
Chinese dumplings look like gold and silver bars, and the delicious braised pork knuckle (猪手) means you have a handy side asset.
KaWai is determined to channel the ox this year, hoping the community will stay as strong as the animal and the pandemic break through.
He finished an announcement to usher in the new year.
“I wish everyone in London, the Chinese community and the rest of the UK a very Happy New Year for Health and Wealth! (‘Sun tai kin hong’ ‘健康,’ gung hai fat choi ‘恭喜 發財).”
Happy Chinese New Year everyone!
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