Dragons and acrobats bring in the year of the rat

PUBLISHED: 16:00 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:42 07 September 2010

CHINESE people living in Camden are preparing to usher in their New Year with a host of celebrations. With the coming Year of the Rat, people will be hoping to capitalise on its central theme of prosperity

Alicia Rix

CHINESE people living in Camden are preparing to usher in their New Year with a host of celebrations.

With the coming Year of the Rat, people will be hoping to capitalise on its central theme of prosperity.

"We'll gamble, we'll play a bit of poker and mah jong," said Gigi Chan, who has a stall at Stables Market.

According to Geoffrey Teoh, from Kentish Town, the majority of Chinese people will wish each other "Gong Xi Fa Chai" or "may you enhance your wealth."

Red packets, or hong bao, containing even numbers of money, are traditionally handed out by the married or wealthy to children and young people.

"Don't forget your red envelope" is the message at the Weng Wah House restaurant on Haverstock Hill, where the Lion Dance will be performed by the Dragon Style Kung Fu Association. The story goes that anyone who gives the lion a red envelope with money inside while it is dancing will receive good energy for the coming year.

While many will inevitably be heading to Chinatown to watch the fireworks scare away last year's bad spirits, others will prefer to celebrate Chinese New Year with more low-key events.

"It will be just a simple dinner, very quiet," said Ken Wong, head waiter at the Royal China restaurant in Camden Town.

He explained the symbolism behind some of the foods traditionally served at New Year: steamed fish for prosperity, noodles are for longevity, pork for wealth, and a sashimi salad tossed to evict bad spirits at the opening of what is known as the reunion meal.

New Year's cake (nien gao) and festive biscuits in various shapes and with different fillings are also among the mouth-watering array of feast foods traditionally served.

For those looking to exchange the outdoor crush of Leicester Square for an evening of quiet celebration, the Everyman cinema in Hampstead will be welcoming the occasion for the first time with a surprise Chinese menu from nearby restaurant Dim T served alongside a screening of Zhang Zimou's Oscar-nominated Hero.

"We are very excited. It's nice to embrace the melting pot of London," said marketing manager Miriam Foley.

The more adventurous could check out the Camden Fundraising Variety Show at the Camden Centre in Bidborough Street on Saturday.

Yukiln Tan, fundraising manager for the event, said "The atmosphere will be different from Chinatown, which is in the open air. Ours is like going to a theatre."

The event is organised by the Camden Chinese Community Centre, which aims to provide recreational and training activities for Chinese people in the borough.

Manager Joseph Ho said: "Every year we entertain a lot of Chinese people, especially elderly people or those who live alone," he said.

"We arrange transport for those housebound people to enjoy such an event. On the other hand, we publicise our culture, we sell paper dragons and Chinese calligraphy on that day and Chinese food to the families."

Particular highlights of the evening will be the celebrated Lion and Dragon dances. The latter, which requires at least 14 or 15 participants, represents "the supreme animal" in Chinese culture.

"In ancient times, only the king could use the dragon as a symbol," said Mr. Ho. "At the Chinese New Year people like to have a Dragon Dance to celebrate prosperity and peace."

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