Are you visiting Paris in February? One event that should be on your radar is the Chinese New Year activities. Although the French capital is as French as it can get, Paris is also an international melting pot. Many Asian communities call it home, and as such, the city embraces various cultures and holidays, one of which is the Chinese New Year more appropriately called Lunar New Year.
Every year, the dull grey days of late January or early February come to life when the Asian community of celebrates the Lunar New Year with great pomp and circumstance. For 2024, the festivities take place on Saturday, February 10. Here are some ways to celebrate Chinese New Year in Paris.
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The Chinese Community in Paris
While Paris has several small sections of Chinatown scattered across the city, the most popular is the one in the 13th arrondissement. It is a little triangular section known as Triangle de Choisy where most of the Chinese community is gathered in. This part of the 13th district is easily accessible by metro line 7 (Tolbiac, Porte d’Ivry) and metro line 14 (Olympiads).
Some of the other Chinatowns are located in the 3rd arrondissement near Rue au Mairie and the 19th/20th arrondissement near Rue de Belleville. There are some larger communities just outside Paris, in Marne La Vallée and Aubervilliers.
History of Chinatown in Paris
Like several outer districts, the 13th became a part of Paris in 1860, and towards the end of the 19th century, a car factory was built in the area. In the 1930s, the factory had about a thousand immigrant workers from China who eventually inhabited the surrounding neighborhood. The car factory was shut down in the 60s, reducing the area to an industrial wasteland until the city intervened and built modern housing in the 70s.
These modern highrise apartment blocks were out of budget for the poorer Parisians, and not quite what wealthier ones wanted but they turned out to be just right for the Asian refugees fleeing from Southeast Asia in the 70s and 80s. Whilst the majority of the community in the 13th is Chinese, it also has a diverse mix of different Asian cultures in terms of people, restaurants, shops, markets, and even temples.
Celebrating Chinese New Year in Paris
The Chinese New Year brings with it light and colors that are a welcome respite from the cold, greyness of the Parisian winter. The bright red flags and lanterns add some soul to the otherwise dreary concrete buildings. The celebrations mark the beginning of the Chinese New Year and the arrival of spring. It is the biggest holiday for Chinese people living abroad.
The Chinese, like the French, attach big moments to food and family so the new year is the time to have meals with friends and family. They also believe in symbols and words and pay attention to the shapes of their dumpling or the way the names of their dishes sound.
Welcoming the Lunar Year is incomplete without a grand parade!
The biggest parade for the Chinese New Year takes place in the main Chinatown of the 13th arrondissement. Known as the Quartier Asiatique, the 13th is home to the largest Asian community, both residential and professional.
The parade here consists of huge spectacles that intermingle with different Asian cultures. There are floats, dancing dragonheads, and cheering crowds with a backdrop of traditional music. The floats have men drumming up the tunes for the new year while women walk in front with colorful costumes that create a striking contrast against the Parisian beige.
The Chinese presence in Belville is also reflected by another parade in this region. Aimed at being festive and colorful, the parade is a sight to behold. Like the Quartier Asiatique, the parade here includes the lion and dragon dances, martial arts performances, and even acrobats.
The Lunar New Year festivities can be witnessed in the Marais district as well where along with the dances and the parades, the district offers free face painting and makeup for kids who want to be included in the celebration.
Apart from the parade, there are several activities, exhibits, and concerts during this time. Visitors can see dances related to the animal of the year and enjoy delicious treats while nodding to traditional tunes.
Chinese Food in Paris
Just like in China, the Chinese New Year means loads of delicious food. It is an excellent opportunity to sample some authentic Chinese and Asian food. Although the 13th arrondissement is the most popular place for rich Chinese flavors, many more upcoming districts in the city offer Asian fusion dishes as well as recipes from the neighboring countries of Cambodia, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
The Japanese/Korean Quartier on Rue Saint Anne hosts weekly markets and has many restaurants and boutiques for Asian dining and shopping. From sushi and Korean barbeque to ramen and dumplings, the food options here are endless. Even though the flavors and cultures of other Asian countries differ from China’s, the Lunar New Year is an important celebration for all.
Don’t forget the several tea rooms in Paris. A lot of them offer a variety of Asian teas and pastries in a calm, relaxing environment. If you wish to experience authentic teas or Asian delicacies, head to Maison des Trois Thés in the 5th arrondissement. There are several tea rooms with Asian flavors and fusion offerings like the T’Xuan tea room in the 9th arrondissement.
Great Chinese Food Options in Paris
- China Messina (204 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 13th Arr) is an institution for Beijing-style plates.
- Steam Bar (2 Rue du Sabot, 6th Arr) enjoy juicy spring rolls and gyoza in a cocktail bar setting.
- Gros Bao (72 Quai de Jemmapes, 10th Arr) has amazing dumplings and bao as well as sticky desserts.
- Petit Bao (116 Rue Saint-Denis, 2nd Arr) same as above but in a smaller space.
- Shang Palace (inside Shangri-La Paris Hotel, 10, avenue d'Iéna, 16th Arr) dimsum and more in a gastronomic experience.
- La Taverne De ZHAO (5 locations in Paris including 49 Rue des Vinaigriers, 10th Arr) is Xi'an-style cuisine, a cozy hidden gem with an open kitchen, slightly compact space, but bursting with delightful flavors, cheerful servers, and reasonable prices.
Chinese New Year Symbols
Red Lanterns: Red is a lucky color in Chinese culture. The red lanterns hanging in the windows of stores and restaurants signify good luck.
Red Envelopes: Older members of the family often put money in small red envelopes embellished with gold designs. These are given to the children and younger members as a symbol of good luck.
Lion and dragon dance: The lion and dragon costumes are donned by dancers who perform in the parades and are believed to bring good luck. Many businesses offer a platter to the lion filled with food (cabbage or oranges) and red envelopes containing money. If the lion tosses the cabbage in the air, it expresses its satisfaction.
Firecrackers and drums: Firecrackers, drums, and other musical instruments create loud noises that are believed to drive away evil spirits and demons.
Embracing Tradition and Diversity in Paris
In the heart of the City of Light, the vibrant traditions of the Lunar New Year illuminate the Parisian winter, creating a beautiful fusion of cultures. As the dragon dances through the streets and the scent of delicious Asian cuisine fills the air, it's a reminder that Paris is not only a city of timeless French elegance but also a global tapestry of diversity and celebration.
So if you are visiting Paris in February, join the grand parade in the Quartier Asiatique or savor exquisite dumplings in the 13th arrondissement. Chinese New Year in Paris is a joyful reminder of the rich tapestry of cultures that call this magnificent city home.
May the Year of the Dragon bring you good fortune, prosperity, and unforgettable memories in the heart of Paris.
How about you? Have you been to the Lunar New Year parade in Paris? Got any suggestions for restaurants to check out? Do tell!