Chinese New Year is almost with us again - but there is still enough time to plan a celebratory trip, even if you want to fly out to China itself. How to do it? Read on...
1. The Rat's Back
Well, happy new year. May your next 12 months be filled with health and happi…
Hang on a second. Haven’t we done this already? On January 1? You know, New Year’s Day? You had a hangover, I was still angry about what you said to Simon at the party, and Sarah rang up, still in tears, about your behaviour in the kitchen. I know we said we'd put it behind us, but we need to discuss this at some point, our therapist says.
Sorry, I got sidetracked there. Anyway. That was plain old New Year. And now we're talking about Chinese New Year, which, tied to the lunar cycle, flits and flickers around the calendar like the fantastical thing it is. This year, it will be turning up on January 25, and will usher in the Year of the Rat - the first time since 2008.
Better still, Chinese New Year is not a single day, but a season which lasts for more than two weeks – celebrations will run until February 8. How to take part? Perhaps via the parade and party that will take over central London on the afternoon of Sunday January 26.
2. King Kong
Nowhere is more associated with Chinese New Year than Hong Kong, where the fireworks which light up the harbour have become the global emblem of the festival.
There are, of course, caveats to visiting the Far East's greatest port at present. The city was the scene of widespread democratic protests - tied to the former British colony's relationship with China - throughout 2019. And while the situation has calmed a little in the last few weeks, demonstrations could easily occur again. That said, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has no direct concerns about UK tourists visiting the metropolis - and, helpfully, if you are a British citizen, you don't need a visa to go.
And if you do go this year, you will still see fireworks. Sort of. In December, it was quietly announced that the 2020 event had been cancelled due to concerns about the ongoing tensions in the city. But there will still be a spectacle - an enhanced, expanded of the daily light show which plays out over the harbour - scheduled for the evening of January 26 (8pm, local time). Good enough? If so, a seven-night stay at the four-star Harbour Grand Hong Kong, flying from Heathrow on January 23, costs from £881 per person via British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787; ba.com/holidays). If not, you may want to wait for 2021.
3. Park Life
Chinese New Year also shimmers and shakes in the capital - although Beijing offers a slightly different take on the festival. One of its more unusual facets is the Longtan Fair, held in Longtan Lake Park in Dongcheng, which swells with sporting competition as the fortnight unravels. There are table-tennis matches, arm-wrestling competitions and martial arts demonstrations - and crowd participation is encouraged. A seven-night getaway to the five-star Peninsula Beijing (in Dongcheng), flying from Manchester on January 24, costs from £1,373 per person via Expedia (0330 123 1235; expedia.co.uk).
4. Shanghai Surprise
China's main east-coast port also knows its way around a glittering Chinese New Year party. The Yu Gardens Lantern Festival - traditionally held to mark the end of the season - will illuminate the city on February 8 this year. A seven-night trip to the five-star Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel, flying direct from Gatwick on February 3, costs from £665 per person through Last Minute (0871 277 1070; lastminute.com).
5. 2021 Vision
If dashing off to Hong Kong in the next two weeks strikes you as something of a rush-job, the 2021 version of Chinese New Year comes with a little more notice - not least because it will fall more than a fortnight later (on February 12). Of course, there will be none of the Rodent Reverence of 2020 - 2021 will be a bovine bonanza as the Year of the Ox. But the gist of the celebrations will be much the same - as will be the cost. Flight prices are not yet available (most holiday websites will only let you book a year ahead), but expect to pay something near the £881 for a five-star trip quoted in entry 2.
6. All Downhill From Here
You may already have noticed this, but Chinese New Year takes place in January or February, when China is in the grip of the coldest season. And if you are going to fly all the way east for a holiday, you may as well get a dose of winter-sports out of the journey. This is a timely idea - Beijing is due to host the next Winter Olympics (February 4-20 2022). You'll be a bit early if you head to the city with this in mind in the next few weeks - not least because the Xiaohaituo Alpine Skiing Field, which is being purpose-built for the downhill skiing events, hasn't been constructed yet. Still, you can ski in China - the country has developed a burgeoning love for the pursuit as the 2022 Games come closer. Yabuli, in northeasterly Heilongjiang province, is China's largest ski resort. You can even be there in time for Chinese New Year. A seven-night all-inclusive holiday, flying from Heathrow on January 24, costs from £3,489 per person (including lift pass), via Club Med (020 3897 8834; clubmed.co.uk).
7. Wall Call
If the idea of Chinese New Year doesn't fill you with immediate wanderlust, but does feel like inspiration for a wider journey around the country, there is much to be said for the 16-day Wonders of China group tour offered by Wendy Wu Tours (0808 2748 655; wendywutours.co.uk). Beijing, the Great Wall, pandas in Chongqing, the River Yangtze and Shanghai? Yes, all of that good stuff - and a stop in Xi’an for the Terracotta Army too. From £3,190 a head – including flights. Next departure March 2.
8. Dragon Roll
Now then. Beijing and Hong Kong are a long way away – and, as we've established, a little frosty at this time of year. Manchester is also on the chilly side – but it’s a touch closer to your front door. And it has a wealth of Chinese New Year events scheduled for January 24-26 – such as a Dragon Parade through St Peter's Square (January 26) and a "Giant Golden Dragon" that will take up position in St Ann's Square on January 25 and 26. More info at visitmanchester.com/ideas-and-inspiration/chinese-new-year.
9. The Inn Thing
How to truly celebrate the Year of the Rat? By decamping to the Rat Inn (01434 602 814; theratinn.com), of course. It's a small restaurant in the hamlet of Anick - close to Hexham in Northumberland. Despite the name above the door, the menu is notably short on discarded kebabs and the remnants of fried-chicken boxes, but fully fitted with the likes of a vegetarian Shepherd's Pie (with winter vegetables and lentils; £13) and a peppered local sirloin steak with roasted tomatoes (£23). It also sits a hop from Hadrian's Wall (two miles from the Corbridge site run by English-Heritage.org.uk) - which isn't particularly Chinese or festive, but is undeniably impressive all the same.
10. Phoenix Rising
How about a curveball to finish? And things don't come more curvy, nor bally, than the idea of Chinese New Year in the American West. To be specific, in Phoenix, the capital of cowboys-and-canyons state Arizona - which has its 30th annual Chinese Culture & Cuisine Festival (phoenixchineseweek.org/festival) scheduled for the last weekend of the New Year season (February 7-9). You could easily combine it with the 11-night "Arizona Southwestern Desert Adventure" road trip sold by Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012; bon-voyage.co.uk) - which ticks off the Grand Canyon and the huge cacti of Saguaro National Park as well as the big city. From £1,925pp including flights.