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Chinese New Year is the most important festival in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In China and other Asian countries, it is a national holiday and celebrations usually last several days or even up to two weeks. The Chinese New Year 2019 – Year of the Pig celebration was organised by the London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA) with support from the Mayor of London and Westminster City Council. The LCCA was founded in 1978 with the aim to develop and sustain businesses in Chinatown, to represent the local Chinese community and to make Chinatown a clean, safe and enjoyable destination for tourists. The London Chinese New Year celebrations are the largest outside of Asia and one of the biggest events in London – needless to say, there were so many different aspects of the festival to get involved in!

Together with a group of other UCL students, I was assigned the mascot team for the Chinese New Year celebrations. These mascots were the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, each of which is associated with specific birth years. Similarly, each Chinese year is designated with one of the 12 zodiac animal signs, and 2019 is the Year of the Pig. But what did this mean in practise? Every single one of us dressed up in bright, fluffy costumes that represented rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig!

The Chinese New Year celebrations started off with the main parade shortly after 10:00. After getting into our costumes – through which most of us could barely see – we positioned ourselves amongst the various floats of musicians, dancers and performers. Then, the parade started and slowly made its way through the crowded streets of central London. The mascot’s job was to cheerfully wave at people, give high-fives to children and to take an occasional selfie with the excited crowd – while simultaneously trying not to trip or bump into any other mascots.

I never imagined that dancing through the streets of London in a dog costume could be so much fun!

After the parade ended, and we all had a well-deserved Chinese lunch, it was time to head to the streets of Chinatown to take photos with the public. One may think that taking pictures with people cannot be an exhausting and tiring experience – but, believe it or not, there was not a single minute in which we did not have to pose for pictures! Though I was surprised by how many adults got excited about our colourful animal costumes, children were most enthusiastic. They often came running towards us from all directions for high-fives, hugs and pictures. Many even wanted to try on our animal heads!

Overall, the Chinese New Year celebrations were a huge success! I thoroughly enjoyed contributing to and peeking behind the scenes of one of the biggest events of the year in London. Dressing up in a bright animal costume was a whole new experience for me and I am curious as to how many people now have pictures of me in their camera rolls!

Written by Tanja Hann - One-Off Volunteering Ambassador.

If you’re interested in volunteering with LCCA, take a look at some of their other roles. Or, visit our One-Off Volunteering Programme!