UK takes to Year of the Snake

Updated: 2013-02-08 09:13

By Zhang Chunyan in London (China Daily)

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Shoppers and students targeted with new initiatives for the festivities.

Lunar New Year has become increasingly popular in the UK, as luxury retailers work to attract Chinese shoppers with new initiatives, and more schools celebrate the festival.

London retailer John Lewis Oxford Street unveiled top reptile-inspired products to celebrate the pending Year of the Snake. Its selection of products includes luxury handbags and accessories as well as the classic board game Snakes and Ladders.

Chinese shoppers can now use their own currency at China UnionPay terminals and claim back the British value-added tax from their purchases at John Lewis.

"We are better prepared than ever before to welcome Chinese shoppers in London for Chinese New Year and Golden Week celebrations. Our team of Mandarin-speaking partners, providing translated store guides, will be on hand to assist," said Simon Fowler, managing director at John Lewis Oxford Street.

UK takes to Year of the Snake

High-spending Chinese tourists have become an increasingly welcome sight on Europe's streets, as the continent struggles through its deepest recession in more than half a century.

John Lewis witnessed a surge of Chinese shoppers last summer who spent 79 percent more compared with a year ago. This encouraging development prompted it to launch a cultural training program to help its member shops better understand the habits of Chinese shoppers and to recruit more store guides who can speak Mandarin.

Luxury department store Harrods in London put up many big red posters, each with an image of a snake, and installed a large Chinese traditional lion in its main window to greet shoppers. Harrods also hands out many guidebooks with a red cover and snake image to shoppers.

Besides the business impetus, the growing influence of Chinese culture abroad also makes British people more familiar with Spring Festival.

Various cultural activities such as fireworks, dragon dancing, lion dancing and other traditional performances are staged in central London and many other British cities every year.

In January, the British Council, which works with partner HSBC Holdings PLC to promote the study of Chinese language and culture in the UK, distributed Chinese New Year education packs to 9,000 UK primary schools in a bid to improve students' understanding of China.

The new Snakes and Dragons packs encourage teachers to use Chinese New Year celebrations, which start on Sunday, as an opportunity to explore Chinese culture. The packs include lessons and assembly plans, a DVD with films and music, and fact sheets on how to make Chinese paper lanterns and dragon puppets.

"A good understanding of Chinese language and culture will give our young people the advantage they need to live in a global society and compete in a global economy," said Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council and a fluent Mandarin speaker.

At George Eliot Primary School in north London, teacher Sylne Soudan said: "We celebrate Chinese New Year in our school every year. This year, we helped children make paper snakes, paper drum-shaped rattles and red lanterns."

"Each Chinese New Year is named after one of 12 animals. Children all like animals and enjoy the celebrations very much," Soudan added.