Ask anybody marking Chinese New Year this weekend what word would sum up the celebrations and they would say one thing – ‘family’.
So, for the hundreds of Chinese students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), there is bound to be a little pining for home as they prepare for an event that is as significant as Christmas is here in the west.
Happily, the digital age means a face-to-face chat with their nearest and dearest is just a quick phone call away.
And thanks to the university’s Confucius Institute, BID Leicester and Cosmopolitan Arts, we are bringing celebrations to Leicester to mark the Year of the Rat – and the Chinese Spring Festival - starting from this Sunday.
They include a procession through the city on Sunday between 3pm and 5pm, culminating in a celebratory event in Market Square, an art exhibition at Curve, family festivities at New Walk Museum and Highcross Leicester then a coming together in Humberstone Gate on Saturday 8 February between 11am and 4.30pm.
There will also be a Chinese New Year edition of the monthly #LastFriday street food event at the LCB Depot, Rutland Street, between 5pm and 10pm on 31 January.
For DMU students Wang Yuxin, Cai Jiawei, Song Baihai and Lin Ziangyaoit, as well as DMU Mandarin teachers Yu Yi and Yu Jie from our Confucius Institute, it’s heartening to know that a festival is planned in their adopted city.
So, what do people in Leicester need to know about the most significant date in the Chinese calendar?
Yu Yi, who was born in the Year of the Dog, says: “It’s believed that people born in different years have certain characteristics.
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“For anyone born in the Year of the Rat they are adaptable and adjust to the environment very quickly. I was born in the Year of the Dog and so I am loyal.”
Yu Jie, also born in the Year of the Dog, says: “Just like Christmas here, Chinese New Year is one of the most important times of the year. It is also the Spring Festival, so we actually have 15 days to mark the new year, not just the day itself. We prepare for a long time.
“We have a different calendar compared to the western calendar so new year starts in spring. The date changes each year according to the lunar calendar, just like Easter here.
“It is about kindness and happiness. We also put money in children’s right pocket to signify future happiness.”
Song Baihai, who is studying Psychology and was born in the Year of the Tiger, said: “We show our respect to our elders. We love them and in China we often live together. Chinese New Year is a way to enhance your family relationships.
“I will be spending Chinese New Year face-timing my family and then probably making some dumplings and spring rolls.
“It is good to celebrate here as Leicester is so multicultural. I know so many people from different countries who can teach me about them and I can teach them about me.
“DMU has taught me how to understand different people from different backgrounds and communicate with them.”
Cai Jiawei, who was born in the Year of the Ox, is studying Business and Finance. He said: “I will be singing Karaoke with my friends. We have a Karaoke house below our apartment – and maybe I’ll have something to drink. We drink a Chinese spirit. It’s different to whisky and vodka. People should try some.”
Lin Xiangyao is in her final year studying Game Art, which she loves, and Wang Yuxin is studying Accounting and Finance
Lin said: “I am going to the Chinese church in the city to have a huge party with lots of others and Wang Yuxin is coming with me. It is about celebrating with friends as well as family.”
Another aspect of Chinese culture that all of the students say westerners must try during the Spring Festival is bubble tea.
Yu Jie said: “The first year that I came to Leicester there was only one bubble tea café. Now there are seven or eight. I think it’s because more and more Chinese students are coming to Leicester. People should try it. It makes you happy.”
Simon Jenner, BID Leicester director, said: “BID Leicester is pleased to be supporting this programme of events that celebrates the start of the Year of the Rat. Chinese New Year is a vibrant and colourful festival, further highlighting the diversity of our city.
“We’re happy to be working with De Montfort University and Cosmopolitan Arts on this programme which combines traditional celebrations with stunning art exhibitions, workshops, food and drink, and much more.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for the people of Leicester to enjoy free, family events and learn more about Chinese culture.”
For details about the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival celebrations visit here
Posted on Friday 24th January 2020