Celebrating Lunar New Year in Durham!

Written by Marcel Man

Happy New Year of the Tiger! On Saturday 5th February, in the heart of Durham city, there was a myriad of festivities to herald the start of the Lunar New Year. The holiday has significant prominence across East and Southeast Asia, and it celebrates the start of a new year based upon the traditional lunisolar and solar calendar. As a student of Chinese descent, Lunar New Year is especially dear to my heart, and I was delirious with excitement when I heard that Durham’s traditional festivities would resume this year.

The morning of the celebrations I strolled down the Bailey, eager to reach the festivities early, when I was overwhelmed by a sight in the distance: the Durham Town Square was overflowed with a fleet of townspeople, all queuing up to attend the Town Hall’s events. Bewildered and flustered by the queuing traffic, I made my way to the less crowded Clayport Library, where my brief first stop would be a Chinese language taster session hosted by Durham University students. Conversing with a lovely student volunteer who found my dazed expression quite amusing, she eagerly explained how they were running a volunteer program on public education. The taste session taught visitors the twelve zodiac animals that represent each year of the lunar calendar. Near the end of our pleasant conversation, prominent ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ could be heard from the gathered townspeople outside. Curious, I said my goodbyes and wandered out of the library to discover what event was next in store.

The lion dance procession performed by Oceans Apart King Fu Club of Newcastle and the junior lion dance team from Langley Moor School.

From the periphery of my vision, I caught sight of a papier-mache lion head winding its way towards Millennium Place. The lion dance procession has begun! Performed by Oceans Apart King Fu Club of Newcastle and the junior lion dance team from Langley Moor School, the cultural entertainment is said to bring prosperity and good luck for the rest of the year. Joining the surge of people, I craned my neck to observe the delightful performance: a magnificent ‘adult’ lion playfully mimicked a real lion’s movements, and a pair of ‘young lions’ followed suit. The jubilant reception from the crowd was amazing, with the exuberant whoops complimenting the colourful trance of the dance, the rhythmic booms of the barrel drum and delightful clanging of the cymbals.

After the procession came to a close, I finally headed towards the Town Hall. Among the interior of stained-glass windows, wooden plaques and portraits, a stage stood in the middle of the Town Hall, where Chinese songs, and graceful movements of Tai chi, and the exquisite showcase of Hanfu attire, each of these performances displayed Chinese culture in such an artistically beautiful manner. Another memorable production was the traditional Chinese fan dancing performed by local primary school students using vibrant handcrafted paper fans.

Traditional Chinese fan dancing performed by local primary school students using vibrant handcrafted paper fans.

My last stop was to visit a smaller room at the rear of the Town Hall, which was enriched with interactive cultural stations. Although I only wandered for a short duration, it was ample time to see children and parents participating in Chinese art drawing, handling cultural objects from the Oriental Museum, and folding origami lanterns. From the delighted giggles to the beaming faces, it was quite evident everyone was enjoying their hands-on experience of these Chinese customs and traditions. (Photo on left.)

Growing up in Hong Kong, where Lunar New Year is the most important holiday on the calendar, I have fond memories of joyous celebrations with my family to welcome the prosperous new year. Despite studying abroad, attending the town festivities fave me a piece of home, and it was heart-warming to see the people of Durham learning and appreciating Asian culture. I am elated to add this Durham experience to my collection of Lunar New Year memories.

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