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How I celebrate Chinese new year in the UK

It’s tough for Chinese students to be thousands of miles from their families at this time of year. But many universities hold new year events


This year, I’ll be spending my third Chinese new year in the UK – more than 5,000 miles from my home country.

In the UK, most Chinese students choose to celebrate the spring festival – also called the lunar new year – with close Chinese friends. For those away from home, like me, it’s a welcome stroke of luck when new year’s  eve falls on a weekend.

 “Last year, my friend and I went to a Chinese supermarket in the afternoon and had a homemade hot pot in the evening,” says Kun Yang, a first year student at the University of Reading. “We watched the CCTV new year’s gala over the internet. Then I called my parents and grandparents in the afternoon, because of the eight-hour time difference between the UK and China.ˮ

This is a typical way to celebrate the new year at home: on the day before new year’s eve, my family and I paste spring festival couplets on the door and wish each other prosperity for the following year. After dinner, we watch the new year’s gala live on TV together. My mum and grandma will start to prepare the new year’s eve meal and put the lucky coins in dumplings. These are said to bestow good luck and prosperity on the recipient for the following year.

As 12pm approaches, the sound of firecrackers and the smell of gunpowder spread through the air. This is the clearest sign that the new year is coming.

Fireworks are essential on Chinese new year’s eve – but students don’t buy them in the UK. “The fireworks are so expensive, so I tend to go out with my friends and have some drinks,ˮ says Jiayu Zhou, a master’s student at the University of East Anglia, who is about to spent her fifth Chinese new year in the UK.

Some students go to London’s Chinatown on the second day of the festival, where people hand out paper Chinese flags and watch the dragon dances. Outside of private student parties, university Chinese societies tend to organise events to celebrate the festival. Our society at the University of Birmingham, for example, has held a new year gala every year since it was set up in 1967.

 “Although I’m not Chinese, my relationship with Wushu Kungfu encouraged me to adopt the Chinese way in many aspects of my life,” says Nick Mureddu, an Italian PhD student at Birmingham, who performed with the Wing Chun club at the new year gala in 2013. “Chinese new year is a time when I can celebrate an ancient tradition with friends from the same culture that generated my philosophy of life,ˮ says Mureddu.

After the meal, some students will go out for karaoke – the most popular form of entertainment in Chinese culture.

But there are always Chinese students who celebrate new year’s day alone in the UK, and I’ve been one of them. For the last two years I was lucky enough not to have an afternoon lecture on the day, which gave me the chance to spend time on video chat with my family.

I made a big lunch for myself and discussed New Year gala live with my mum. At 5pm, I sent my new year’s wishes to my friends in China over social media. I often feel quite down in the evening, which is past midnight in China, when my friends are offline.

This year, however, I’ll be celebrating the festival with the Chinese society at Birmingham – and I’m performing the Chinese flute at the show.

In oriental cultures, there’s a strong emphasis on familial and cultural ties and in every Chinese student’s heart, there’s a space reserved for the traditions associated with our annual spring festival.