FOR more than a billion people Chinese New Year is the most important date on the calendar.
And this weekend it has come to Portsmouth – as hundreds unite to enjoy a programme of colourful and diverse celebrations at Gunwharf Quays to mark the Year of the Pig.
The jubilant two-day festivities got under way yesterday as Hampshire-based performers from the UK Shaolin Temple drew a roaming crowd with a spectacular dragon procession.
As the parade stopped outside outlet stores, shoppers in their droves watched in a huddle as it gave way to lion dancers – whose energetic routine was serenaded by drums.
Husband and wife Andrew and Sharon Shepherd travelled from Gosport to watch the action with their six-year-old daughter Eleanor.
‘It’s our first time watching the celebrations but they have been amazing fun,' said Mr Shepherd, who is 45.
‘For someone Eleanor’s age to experience different colours, cultures and experiences like this is so important.’
Having been transfixed by the display, it was clear the youngster liked what she saw.
Her mum said: ‘Eleanor actually gave a bit of a Simon Cowell comment – she said “I don’t like it, I love it” – and we’ve been following the dragon all afternoon.’
Dropping lettuce as they went – a symbol of good luck – the performers eventually settled in Central Square for group photos and a powerful Kung Fu demonstration.
Rachel Ellis, from West Sussex, enjoyed watching alongside her family.
The 31-year-old said: ‘What’s so great to see is that all the children are involved in it as well – it’s been pretty cool.’
Ashleigh Wykes, a performer and instructor at UK Shaolin Temple, said the preparation she and her team put in had paid off.
‘We’ve collaborated with Gunwharf for three years now and it’s become a real hub for this annual event,’ the 26-year-old said.
‘There’s a real interest in Chinese culture and this is about bringing that to people in a personal way – with something they can come and engage with, experience with their children and their family too.’
Chinese New Year celebrations will continue at Gunwharf Quays today, from 2pm until 3.30pm.
Members of staff will be handing out red envelopes to customers which contain special offers for stores including Michael Kors, Cath Kidston, M&S, The Perfume Shop and Karen Millen.
2pm – Background music begins
2.10pm – Waking lion ceremony in main square – featuring a special guest
2.30pm – Lion dance outside select stores
3pm – Kung Fu and traditional Chinese dance demonstration
3.25pm – Group photos
3.30pm – Finish