Colourful Chinese New Year parade in Barcelona joined by Catalan cultural groups

The Chinese community welcomed the 'Year of the Goat' last week. The biggest New Year festivity took place this Saturday, when a parade of a thousand people filled the Barcelona streets with a trail of red dancing dragons and lions. This is the second year that Chinese organisations and Catalan folklore groups, such as Catalonia's traditional human tower builders (‘castellers’) and the traditional giant figures representing kings, knights and princesses called ‘gegants’, joined together to celebrate Chinese New Year. Almost 10,000 spectators lined the parade route through the streets of the Eixample district in the centre of the city. Barcelona has 17,400 Chinese inhabitants, the third largest foreign population, after the Pakistani and the Italian communities; however a great number of Chinese people live in the surrounding towns of Greater Barcelona.  

Dancing dragon waiting for the parade to start (by Marina Force Castells)
Dancing dragon waiting for the parade to start (by Marina Force Castells) / ACN / Marina Force Castells / Alice Ng

ACN / Marina Force Castells / Alice Ng

February 23, 2015 05:27 PM

Barcelona (ACN).-  More than 1,000 people from 36 Chinese associations and Catalan traditional groups, such as Catalonia's traditional human towers (called ‘castellers’), paraded through the streets of Barcelona to celebrate Chinese New Year this Saturday. Firecrackers and an explosion of red colour have marked the beginning of the 'Year of the Goat', although the Chinese community officially welcomed the 4712th year of their lunar calendar last Wednesday night with a traditional family reunion. The parade wowed almost 10,000 spectators with its dancing dragons and filled Barcelona's Eixample district with joy. According to the Director of the General Chinese Consulate in Barcelona, Wang Shuo, the parade is “an element of internationalisation for the city, which once more shows its inclusivity”.

The celebration allowed both Catalans and Chinese to enjoy the Spring Festival. It was organised by the Catalan Chinese community, Barcelona City Council and two associations, ‘Casa Àsia’ and the ‘Fundació Institut Confuci de Barcelona’, aiming to promote Chinese culture in Catalonia.   

The two-hour parade, which started on Saturday at 11:30 at the Estació del Nord Park, not only entertained the more than 10,000 spectators with its colourful dragon and lion dances, but also with the ‘castellers’ and ‘gegants’, huge traditional Catalan figures which spin around and are dressed in traditional costume. The celebration was marked both by the crackling of fireworks and the cackling of spectators.

About 1,000 participants from 36 Chinese and Catalan associations marched through the Eixample district until they reached the Arc de Triomf (Arch of Triumph). Various Catalan and Chinese traditional performances, such as martial arts, were showcased on the stage located near the memorial arch.

During the whole parade, the traditional Chinese lion drum dances induced local Catalans to take 'selfies' with their cameras. The Catalan groups also showed their music talent and it was hard not to dance to the rhythm of the percussion instruments played by ‘Beirão Percusión’.

The Chinese locals were impressed by the Catalan group ‘Bestialots Espurnats’, whose members were dressed as devils and spun torches with blasting fireworks. Most of the locals laughed with joy in their red clothes, except little kids and dogs, who were terrified by the deafening noise of the firecrackers.

An inclusive street party

According to the Commissioner for Immigration of the City Council, Miquel Esteve, this parade is a “reflection of Barcelona’s cultural diversity”, a city in which almost one in four inhabitants are foreigners. “The parade aims to prove that together we can build festivals, culture and a better city”.

Last year’s parade in Barcelona was broadcast all around China thanks to the Xinhua news agency. “The headline was: ‘Chinese community in Barcelona celebrates the New Year festivity together with the Catalans”, according to Chang Shiru, Co-director of the Barcelona Confucius Foundation.  

Lídia Tubert, Co-ordinator of Cultural Activities of the Foundation, explains that the parade responds to “the will of the Chinese community to express its gratitude to the city for its reception”. “The Chinese really want the Catalans to join the festival,” she states.   

Furthermore, the Director of the General Chinese Consulate in Barcelona, Wang Shuo, believes that this traditional celebration is “an element of internationalisation for the city, which once more shows its inclusivity”. In this sense, Àngels Pelegrín, Director of the Barcelona Confucius Foundation and first promoter of this inclusive celebration, says that “the parade shows perfectly the integration of the Chinese community in Catalonia”. 

The year of the Goat

2015 is the year of the Goat, which is the 4712th Chinese Year in the Lunar Calendar. According to Chinese astrology, each year is associated with an animal sign, operating in a 12-year cycle. The Goat is the 8th animal in the zodiac and is represented with the Chinese character “yang”.

People who were born in the ‘goat’ year are said to be meek and enjoy good health. The lucky numbers for the “goats” are 2 and 7, while their lucky colours are brown, red and purple. In 2015 the “goats” will be lucky in love and relationships. However, they will have to be careful of financial loss and are recommended by Chinese fortune-tellers to avoid lotteries and investments.

Traditions during Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival is a time to get together. The celebration, which in Chinese-speaking countries will run for the next two weeks, aims to expel the evil spirits and make an appeal to deities for good fortune in the coming year. 

The Secretary General of ‘Casa Àsia’, Montserrat Riba, explains that there are “three basic elements” linked to this festival: the colour red, the noise of firecrackers and the light produced by the fireworks and lanterns. All three come from one of the legends associated with the celebration, namely the beast Nian, a monster that used to appear at the end of the year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers until a wise man managed to shoo the monster away with the help of red clothes, bright lights and a deafening noise.

Although it is the second time that the Catalan institutions have collaborated with the Chinese New Year parade, Chinese people living in Barcelona have been celebrating the festivity in a traditional way for years. The owner of the Chinese restaurant Chino La Paz, located in the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi district, states that during the Spring Festival some Chinese return to their hometown in China for a family reunion. “However, the majority stay in the city and carry on with the ritual of giving red packets with cash to the children as a wish for luck and fortune in the New Year”, Mr Yi says. 

Red is also present at some Chinese shops, where ‘good luck’ flags and maroon lanterns with tassels are common sight during this days. Besides this, some grocery stores also sell traditional festive food, such as Chinese dumplings called “Tang yuen” and rice cakes. The Chinese New Year is, indeed, an excellent occasion for Catalan people who enjoy Asiatic food to taste some delicious meals and learn about this culture.

Growing Chinatown in Barcelona

There has been a significant growth of the Chinese population in Barcelona over recent years. According to the Catalan Institute of Statistics, the total Chinese population within the foreign population in Barcelona city has increased from 4.4% in 2007 to 5.8% in 2013.

Barcelona is the Catalan city with the largest Chinese community, with 17,400 inhabitants, followed by the nearby towns of Santa Coloma de Gramanet, Badalona and l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, all of which are literally attached to Barcelona. Indeed, the Chinese community represents the third-biggest foreign population in the Catalan capital, after the Pakistani and Italian communities.

The Fort Pienc Quarter, located in the Eixample district where the parade took place, is slowly undergoing a Chinatown transformation. This area is filled with more than one hundred Chinese local restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores which the Catalans called “ElsXinos”. A year ago, the City Council launched the Xeix project aiming to incorporate the Chinese community into the associative network of the neighbourhood.

Today, the Xeix initiative is one of the five finalists of the Diversity Advantage Challenge Prize, awarded by the Council of Europe, the winner of which will be announced on the 24th of March. The award recognises innovative projects that promote cultural diversity and co-existence, and has a prize of €10,000.

The Commissioner for Immigration of the Barcelona City Council, Miquel Esteve, said he was “really excited” about the award nomination, during the Chinese New Year press conference last week. “The Spring Festival celebration is just one of the numerous attempts by the Barcelona City Council to improve inter-cultural relationships between the Catalan and Chinese community”, he concluded.