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Lunar New Year 2024 Celebrations in Scotland: A Guide for the unfamiliar

By PC Suzanne Ng

PC Suzanne Ng - Police Scotland

Don't be alarmed if you were in Scotland on February 10, 2024, and you saw red lanterns, dragon dances, and loud firecrackers. It was the start of Lunar New Year celebrations in the country and worldwide. Celebrations last 15 days and at the end, we will see a full moon. But what is this event all about, and how is it celebrated here in Scotland and worldwide? 


The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, is considered one of the most important holidays for East and Southeast Asian countries and the Asian Diaspora around the world. The dates vary every year as it follows the lunar calendar, but it usually falls between late January and mid-February.


So, the Lunar New Year is only some of what you see on the news and social media. There is a lot of preparation in the weeks before. With Covid Lockdown a distant memory, Lunar New Year is a time to gather with family to celebrate, with many travelling far and wide to spend time with them. 


Growing up with traditional Chinese parents, I watched and helped my parents clean their home from top to bottom, and I am now cleaning my own home to drive away any bad luck from the previous year for a new start. 


I watch them dawn their home in lucky red decorations, and my mum makes Nian Gao (New Year Sweet Rice Cake) for the masses, enough to feed the country. My favourite part of Lunar New Year preparation is getting my hair cut; yes, any excuse to get my hair done. During the 15 days of celebration, I and many others celebrating the Lunar New Year do not cut our hair as this signifies cutting away your wealth. I also get new shoes, yes, another favourite part! The Cantonese word for shoes is similar to 'rough'. During the 15-day celebration, it is believed that buying new shoes signifies that you will be in for a rough year, so I avoid this by purchasing new shoes beforehand. 

Nian Gao (New Year Sweet Rice Cake)

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, many East and Southeast Asian people do not wash their hair, which is believed to wash away good luck. The same goes for washing clothes, sweeping the floor and throwing out rubbish. 


You might have gathered already that everything we do symbolises something.


Even with the food during celebrations, it fosters a prosperous new year - the Cantonese word for prawns is 'ha', which literally sounds like laughter and brings joy and happiness. Extra-long noodles, known as longevity noodles, are welcomed as they represent a life that spans many years. Obviously, my mum will make enough food to feed the country! 


Of course, a lot more happens within the four walls of mine, my families and communities homes. But we could be here all day with me writing and you reading. I would encourage you to research more in your own time. Mine and my family's way of preparing and celebrating will vary from another family. 


Lunar New Year fell on February 10 this year and marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. According to Chinese astrology, the dragon symbolises power, good fortune, and prosperity. Each year is associated with one of 12 animals, and the people born in that year share the traits of that animal.

Lunar New Year is a time for family gatherings, feasting and gift-giving, usually in the form of hóngbāo (lucky red envelopes) from married couples and food. Giving lucky red envelopes represents good fortune and the avoidance of bad spirits. Although the celebration in Scotland is not as grand as in China or other countries with a significant Chinese population, it is still a joyous occasion for those who celebrate it. 


hóngbāo (lucky red envelopes)

In Scotland, East and Southeast Asian communities organise various events to mark the occasion, including dragon and lion dances, traditional music and dance performances, and food and craft stalls. The biggest celebration usually occurs in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but other cities such as Aberdeen and Dundee also host their events.


However, with the celebration comes some potential safety concerns for the Police in Scotland. Fireworks and firecrackers are commonly used during Lunar New Year celebrations and are permitted between 1800 - 0100 hours. Safety precautions must be taken to ensure they are used safely. The Police, along with the Scottish Fire Rescue Service, should work with East and Southeast Asian communities to raise awareness of the potential dangers and to ensure that the celebrations are conducted safely. Unfortunately, there was little to no information about this on the intranet, making officers aware.


Lunar New Year is a significant cultural event celebrated by millions worldwide, including Scotland. It is a time for celebration, family and community, and learning about East and Southeast Asian culture. However, it is essential to remember the potential safety concerns that come with the celebrations and for the Police to take a proactive approach to ensure our communities' safety and well-being. 


If you attend any Lunar New Year events over the coming weeks, please feel free to greet communities with 'Happy New Year' and 'Kung Hei Fat Choi'. This means 'Congratulations and wishing you a prosperous year'. If you are given any gifts whilst in your capacity as a Police Officer or Police Staff, remember to fill out the Gifts and Gratitudes form or politely decline. Be mindful that lucky red envelopes often contain money. (Gifts and Hospitality)


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