The Lion Dance
The Lion Dance is the most spectacular event of the
Chinese New Year festivities. The role of the lion is in dispelling evil
and bringing good luck and is why the dance is accompanied by firecrackers
and loud music played on large drums, gongs and cymbals - evil being afraid
of loud noise.
Lion Dances are performed by skilled performers, normally from a martial
arts school or acrobatic company. One operates the head and makes the
lion look realistic by moving the eyelids, mouth and ears and a second
dancer is at the tail of the lion.
The dramatic climax of the Lion Dance is the Choi Cheng or 'Picking the
Green'. Vegetable leaves are tied to a piece of string which also has
a red packet attached containing money. The string is hung above the doorway
of the house or business and the Lion 'eats' both leaves and red packet.
The leaves are 'chewed' whilst lying on the ground and the musicians play
a dramatic rolling crescendo. Then, the lion dramatically explodes back
into activity while spitting out the leaves. This is a symbolic act of
blessing by the lion, with the spitting out of the leaves signifying that
there will be an abundance of everything in the coming year.
take place throughout the first few days of the Chinese New Year and if
your home or business is fortunate enough to be visited by a performance,
the Lion is said to bring good luck for the rest of the year.
Chinese give money inside red envelopes. Small gifts are given when visiting
a home of a friend and increasingly for weddings, but traditionally money
is given. The envelopes are decorated with lucky symbols or Chinese characters
and known as 'Lai Si' or 'Hong Bao'. Red is the most auspicious colour,
while the decoration may have a blessing or good wish.
At Chinese New Year, red packets are given by married couples to children
and unmarried people. The symbolic giving of the money represents a wish
for fortune and wealth in the coming year. The money may also be used
to pay off debt, allowing a financial clean slate in the New Year.
Gods are placed on the outside doors of houses during the build up to
Chinese New Year. This is an ancient tradition dating back to the Tang
Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). The Emperor Taizong is said to have fallen ill
and dreamt one night that ghosts came to the palace in search for him.
He recounted his dream to his officials the next day and the story quickly
spread through the Imperial Court. Concerned, the emperors top two generals,
Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong, both of whom had fought to establish the Tang
dynasty, then stood guard outside the emperor's bedroom door. The emperor
had no further dreams of the ghosts, but after a few nights, the emperor's
concern turned towards his loyal generals. He ordered that two paintings
be made, one of each general and that they be hung on the door to his
room. He then relieved the generals of their posts. The tale soon spread
and eager to share the protection of these "Door Gods" the common
people made their own paintings and placed them on their doors. The tradition
has continued to this day.
Welcoming the New Year and Expelling the Old
The entire house should be cleaned before
New Year's Day and on New Year's Eve, brooms, brushes,
dusters, dust pans and all other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping
or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune
will be swept away. On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every
door in the house and every window should be opened to allow the old year
to go out. The following day, dust and rubbish are swept to the middle
of the room, then left in the corners and not taken or thrown out. At
no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. Sweeping the
dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away
the good fortune of the family and so it must always be swept inwards
and then carried out. All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back
door on the fifth day.
Fifteen Days of Celebration
first day of the Lunar New Year is 'the welcoming of the gods of the heavens
and earth'. Many people abstain from eating meat on the first day of the
New Year, as it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives.
On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors and the gods. They
are extra kind to dogs and ensure that they are well fed, as it is believed
that the second day is the birthday of all dogs. On the third and fourth
days, the sons-in-laws pay respect to their parents-in-law.
The fifth day is called Po Woo and on this day people stay at home to
welcome the God of Wealth. You must not visit your family or friends on
the fifth day, as it will bring both parties bad luck. Between the sixth
and the tenth day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends. They
also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health. On the seventh
day of the New Year, farmers display their produce and make a drink from
seven types of vegetables to celebrate the occasion. The seventh day is
also considered the birthday of humans. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity
and raw fish for success. On the eighth day, they have another family
reunion dinner and at midnight, they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven.
The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor. The tenth day
through to the twelfth, are days that friends and relatives should be
invited for dinner. After so much rich food, the thirteenth day should
simply be rice congee and mustard greens (choi sum) to cleanse the system.
On the fourteenth day, preparations are made to celebrate the Lantern
Festival, which is held on the 15th night.
Flowers hold a special significance at Chinese New
Year and the Chinese language's endless opportunities for puns and play
on words are demonstrated in the flowers that are used. As with almost all
activities at Chinese New Year, there is enormous symbolism in the use of
flowers. Here are three of the most important.
Prior to New Year's Day, Chinese families
decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms. Blossoms are
particularly auspicious flowers, the peach blossom being the most auspicious
of all. Arriving in spring, they symbolise life, growth and prosperity.
The peach is important in Chinese culture and is a symbol of long life.
It is regarded as the strongest defence against evil. Sprays of peach
blossom were at one time placed above front doors to prevent even the
strongest evil spirit from getting into the house. If your peach blossom
blooms during the New Year celebrations, it is sign that the year ahead
will be one of good fortune.
This is a play on words. In Chinese the
kumquat is called Gam Gat Sue. The word Gam rhymes with the Chinese word
for gold and the word Gat rhymes with the Chinese word for luck. The tiny
green leaves of this plant symbolise wealth as the word Lu (green) rhymes
with the Chinese word for wealth. Finally, the shape of the small orange
is a symbol of unity and perfection.
The peony is called the 'Flower of Riches
and Honour' in Chinese and is the emblem of love and affection, as well
as being a symbol for feminine beauty. The bright red peony is particularly
auspicious, bringing with it luck and good fortune.
Etiquette dictates that you must bring
a bag of oranges and tangerines and enclose a lai see (red packet) when
visiting family or friends at anytime during the two-week long Chinese
New Year celebration. Tangerines with leaves intact ensure that one's
relationship with the other remains secure. For newlyweds, this represents
the branching of the couple into a family with many children. Oranges
and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.
A candy tray with eight varieties of dried
sweet fruit is arranged in either a circle or octagon and called 'The
Tray of Togetherness'. There is a dazzling array of candy to start the
New Year sweetly and after taking several pieces of candy from the tray,
adults place a red envelope on the middle of the tray. Each item represents
some kind of good fortune. Candied melon for growth and good health.
Red melon seed is dyed red to symbolise
joy, happiness, truth and sincerity. Lychee nut for strong family relationships.
Kumquat for prosperity as it has a gold colour. Coconut for togetherness.
Peanuts for a long life. Longnan to be blessed with many good sons. Lotus
seed to be blessed with many children.
By Alison Skelton RCFSI