CHINESE NEW YEAR’S DAY is the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar. But on the Gregorian calendar the date is different each year falling somewhere between the 21st January and the 20th February. This year, Chinese New Year’s Day fell on Monday 8th February.
In the Chinese calendar, 2016 is ‘l’Année du Singe’, the Year of the Monkey, the ninth of the 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle.
In Paris, Chinese New Year is celebrated across the city culminating in the Carnaval du Nouvel An Chinois, the Chinese New Year Carnival in the 13th arrondissement, which took place yesterday.
The Carnaval du Nouvel An Chinois is always boisterous occasion. A huge crowd lines the streets to watch the colourful parade circulating around the largest Chinatown in Paris and, as I do every year, I went along to join in the celebrations and to record the sounds.
Parisian Chinese New Year 2016:
This year’s parade may have been dampened by rain and tempered by the lack of firecrackers but it didn’t stop this annual spectacle from being as exuberant as ever.
JUST ONE WEEK on from this year’s Carnaval de Paris the streets of Paris resounded to the sights and sounds of the celebrations for the Chinese New Year.
There are three main celebrations in Paris for the Chinese New Year, one around the Marais, another in Belleville and, the largest of the three, in Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement, the one I attended.
In the Chinese calendar this year is the year of the goat, which is associated with the virtues of kindness, warmth, and artistic sensitivity.
Each year the centrepiece of the Chinese New Year celebrations in the 13th arrondissement is the colourful and sound-rich procession that begins in Avenue d’Ivry and then winds through Avenue de Choisy, Place d’Italie, Avenue d’Italie, Rue de Tolbiac, Boulevard Massena, finally arriving back at Avenue d’Ivry some three hours later.
Sounds of the Parisian Chinese New Year 2015:
As usual, I arrived early and like some of those preparing to take part in the procession I had time to grab a quick bite to eat. For some it was a sandwich …
… but for me it was a take-away to eat on the hoof served by two charming young ladies.
Before the parade set off I came upon this man manhandling a rather unruly horse …
… and a couple of stray lions.
Paris has a large and thriving Chinese community and for the Chinese New Year celebrations they, and many other Parisians, either take part in the procession or take to the streets to watch it with crowds standing ten deep in some places along the route.
In crowds like this recording the sounds and taking photographs at the same time is always a challenge. The best place to record the best sounds is seldom the best place to capture the best pictures but with good planning, a journalistic instinct for being in the right place at the right time, and judicious use of one’s elbows it’s usually possible manage to do both. I believe it’s called ‘multi-tasking’.
If it comes to a choice though, I always put capturing the sounds ahead of capturing the pictures because why wouldn’t you want those fabulous Chinese rhythms and sonic textures, not to mention the chorus of Chinese firecrackers, to take centre stage!
THE CHINESE NEW YEAR is a moveable feast. In the Gregorian calendar it falls somewhere between 21st January and the 20th February but the precise date is determined by the lunisolar Chinese calendar and the date when the second new moon after the winter solstice occurs.
Each year in the Chinese calendar is associated with one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac. This year is the Year of the Dragon.
Around 700,000 Chinese people live in France, the largest Chinese diaspora in Europe. In Paris, they have built their communities in both the city and the suburbs – in the 13th arrondissement in particular but also Belleville and further out in the suburbs of Lognes, Torcy and Noisy-le-Grand.
Chinese communities the world over celebrate their new year with tremendous enthusiasm and the Chinese community in Paris is no exception. The streets are decorated with red Chinese lanterns, wonderful colours abound and the air is filled with the magical sounds of drums and cymbals accompanying the magnificent lion dances.
The Year of the Dragon in Paris:
The lion dancer troupes come from Chinese martial art schools and they visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of “cai ching” (採青), literally “plucking the greens”, a quest by the lion to pluck green vegetables, often represented by a lettuce, tied to a red envelope containing money. The lion dances and approaches the lettuce and the red envelope. It eats the lettuce and then spits it out leaving it neatly arranged but it keeps the red envelope. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and good fortune to the business and the troupe is rewarded with the red envelope. It’s fascinating to watch and to listen to.
Last weekend I went to experience all the colourful costumes, the symbolism and the wonderful sounds of this year’s ‘Year of the Dragon’ unfold in this diverse city. Of all the sounds to be heard none is more spectacular than the sound of the firecrackers. Not to be confused with fireworks, Chinese firecrackers have a sound all of their own.