UK, US join Spring Festival Party

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Lion dances, red envelopes, paper cuttings and delicious treats-all essential elements of Spring Festival-will not only occur in China in the coming days. Major festivities are also planned in the United States and the United Kingdom.

They will take place at shopping complexes, theme parks and museums across the US, with the activities meant to impress diverse audiences by celebrating one of the most important Asian festivals.

Elysa Marden, vice-president of Arts Brookfield for Brookfield Properties in New York, said, "We like to diversify our programming so there is something for everyone, ensuring that we reach numerous communities."

For seven years, the organization has presented family-friendly performances at Brookfield Place, a high-end shopping venue in Lower Manhattan.

This year, it is bringing a taste of Spring Festival to the Big Apple, with lion dances, martial arts demonstrations and traditional Chinese dancing in partnership with the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

"The Lunar New Year celebrations have become an annual favorite for Asian communities as well as the community in Lower Manhattan, attracting up to 4,300 people to the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place," Marden said.

Interest in the Spring Festival is also spreading to other major shopping hot spots across New York, including the newly opened complex Hudson Yards and retail giant Macy's.

Hudson Yards is featuring Chinese classical, folk and lion dancing. During Chinese Lunar New Year, visitors will exchange red envelopes decorated with lucky symbols or auspicious messages that contain cash.

Shoppers at Hudson Yards will receive special prizes and a chance to win gift vouchers after spending a certain amount.

Stores, such as fashion retailer Tory Burch, cosmetics brand Kiehl's, lifestyle outlet MUJI, as well as restaurants are joining in, offering exclusive deals and Spring Festival collections.

Macy's is taking the celebrations to six locations nationwide, with special in-store events and deals. Its stores in Herald Square and Flushing, New York, as well as three in California and one in Hawaii, are all preparing to welcome the Year of the Rat with lion dances, cooking demonstrations, giveaways, and more.

Jose Gamio, senior director of multicultural community engagement at Macy's, which first celebrated Spring Festival 10 years ago, said, "We are thrilled to highlight the diverse cultures of our customers, communities and colleagues by celebrating Lunar New Year across the country."

South Coast Plaza, the largest shopping center on the West Coast of the US, has the same history of celebrating the festival with extensive programs. Special performances and displays will be staged on two consecutive weekends at the retail hub, accompanied by free gifts, store and window displays, and exclusive offers.

Disney California Adventure Park and Universal Studios Hollywood are marking Spring Festival by dressing some signature characters in Chinese attire and staging performances featuring well-known China-related characters such as Mulan and Kungfu Panda.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse will be dressed in rat costumes designed by Chinese couturier Guo Pei.

Disney's Lunar New Year highlights include art walls to educate visitors about Spring Festival, featuring amusing incidents and unique stories from the different cultures that celebrate it.

A similar approach is being taken by museums across the US, which are presenting special programs and educational events.

Julie Marie Seibert, assistant educator for family programs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, said, "Each Spring Festival, we develop surprise, multimodal activities with artists, performers and arts organizations to connect visitors to a broader cultural community."

The museum has been hosting Spring Festival events for a decade, attracting more than 5,000 visitors every year.

"Through these activities, participants enjoy, learn and discover our galleries and broaden or deepen their understanding of cultural traditions represented in our collections. Families will have the opportunity to learn about communities across the globe that celebrate Spring Festival," Seibert added.

Marden said her organization has "received positive feedback from the diverse audiences that attend Brookfield Place events, who say they appreciate experiencing different cultures".

Lion dance performances, which appear to be especially popular among all the events staged in the US, are a favorite with both children and adults, Marden added.

"You can still enjoy the intricate and brightly colored costumes, interesting movements and drum beats, even if you don't know the meaning behind the Lion Dance-that it is chasing away evil spirits to bring good luck and fortune," she said.

UK gets ready

Meanwhile, in the UK, the National Gallery in London, near the British capital's Chinatown, is preparing to celebrate Spring Festival on Sunday.

On the same day, hundreds of thousands of people are also expected to flock to annual celebrations in Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and the West End, which organizers claim are the largest outside Asia.

Zoe Bates, family and children's programmer for learning and national projects at the National Gallery, which is situated in Trafalgar Square, said, "Chinese New Year is an opportunity to celebrate the location of the gallery and its proximity to our surrounding neighborhood of Chinatown-positioning the gallery as a backdrop to and extension of the Trafalgar Square celebrations."

Over the past five years, the National Gallery has staged family events linked to Spring Festival, and it views these as an opportunity to attract new audiences, Bates said. This year, activities will feature Chinese-themed storytelling, dancing, papercutting and dumpling making.

In Greenwich, southeast London, the National Maritime Museum is celebrating Spring Festival for the 19th year. Visitors to the institute's Traders Gallery will learn of the struggles between Britain and China in the tea trade.

Georgina Sheehan, the museum's assistant press officer, said, "Celebrating Chinese New Year allows us to engage visitors with Chinese objects and stories within the collection and encourage local families to celebrate Chinese history and tradition."

Sheehan added that the celebratory event has become more popular, with families traveling across London to join in. This year, it will be staged on Saturday, when lion dances and performances by the Guizhou Song and Dance Ensemble will be presented. Visitors can take part in craft workshops, origami ratmaking and Chinese storytelling, while playing and learning about the history of mahjong.

An art workshop will be held aboard the tea clipper Cutty Sark, inspired by the vessel's voyages to China.

At the start of next month, traditional and contemporary performances to celebrate Spring Festival will be held at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in western England. Stalls will feature elements of Chinese culture, the institution's cafe will put on a special menu and Chinese goods will be on sale. Other activities will include rat-seeking games and workshops.

Karen Garvey, the museum's events engagements officer, said Spring Festival celebrations have been held at the institution since 2003. They have evolved from relatively small-scale activities into a huge event involving hundreds of performers, activity organizers and student volunteers.

She said audiences are becoming increasingly diverse, adding that in previous years, there had been many Chinese and Caucasian visitors, but now the event is also attracting people with Southeast Asian, African and Middle Eastern heritage.

Garvey said the celebration helps raise the museum's profile. "This year, the Mayor of Bristol and the Lord Mayor are planning to attend. Bristol is twinned with Guangzhou (capital of Guangdong province), so it makes it even more fitting that we celebrate Chinese New Year."

The celebrations at UK museums are part of a series of cultural events being staged nationwide to herald Spring Festival.

Sarah Wang, a manager at the Confucius Institute at the University of Aberdeen, said Spring Festival this year will be a unique and special occasion in Scotland. It falls on Jan 25, when Burns Night, the traditional celebration for Scottish poet Robert Burns is held. She said the two celebrations have not coincided for more than 70 years.

This year, the institute's Chinese New Year Gala will have a Scottish theme, including a Burns poetry recital in English and Mandarin, a Chinese boy playing the bagpipes and a performance of Burns' song Auld Lang Syne in English and Mandarin, Wang said.

Meanwhile, in the past year, China and the UK saw closer cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

According to data provided by Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to the UK, for a China Daily article published on Jan 6, some 168 flights operated between the two countries every week last year. As a result, China has become an important source of tourists visiting the UK.

Felicity Miller, a mother of four living in the UK, said her family celebrates Spring Festival every year. Her children are half-Chinese, so she feels that it is important they can learn about China even though they don't live in the country.

She has seen growing interest in the festivities in the UK in recent years. "Many British families ask me for tips on how they can get involved," Miller said.

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