Chelmsford welcomes back the Year of the Rat!

Xīn

nián

kuài

Happy New Lunar Year!

Chinese New Year is an ancient holiday. Most of its traditions date back to thousands of years ago. But as times change, it’s not surprising that new traditions are formed. The most prominent is the Chinese New Year Gala (Chinese full name: 中央电视台春节联欢晚会—zhōng yāng diàn shì tái chūn jiē lián huān wǎn huì). Chelmsford Civic theatres welcomed the Chinese New Year Gala celebrations commemorating the beginning of a new cycle, and welcoming back the rat, the first sign in the Chinese zodiac calendar.

This was a great partnership project with Colchester Chinese Culture Society, Essex Cultural Diversity Project and Essex County Council working together to ensure that there is equal access to cultural experiences and creative learning opportunities for everyone. So as we are nearing the end of January 2020, the Chinese New Year Gala has kicked started the Essex2020 programme, a year celebrating science and creativity in true style.

The gala welcomed a Chinese zither orchestra, song and dance performances ranging from traditional classic styles, to folk, ethnic and modern acts. Many old-time favourites like the spectacular lion dance, but also young prodigies, amateurs dance troops, the Beijing opera and professional operatic singers all featured on the stage.

In the short speech given by the respectable Chinese Ambassador we learnt that the term rat is a very culturally specific one, and that the Chinese word shǔ​ (鼠) may refer to rat, mouse, or other muroid-type animal in a belief system that has existed in Chinese culture for more than 2,000 years.

According to one story, the rat craftily won a race set by the mythical Jade Emperor by perching on the back of an ox, so becoming the first sign among the 12 animals which make up the Chinese zodiac. The rat’s direction is north, and its time represents the midnight hours of 11 pm to 1 am – good times for hard workers, creatives and creative hard workers. (Good news for lots of us then!)

While the festival of welcoming the new year is celebrated differently throughout the world, all celebration is centered around reunion and hope. In this light, Chelmsford can be proud of its ambitions to be a culturally diverse place, where all ethnicities, genders and generations can interact and thrive. It was a fantastic turn with a real vibrant energy in the theatre, thanks to all the spectacular performers and Simone Xue who worked so hard in pulling it all together!

Photo Credit: Gabriela Margarita