The Chinese New Year is an important celebration all over the world as it is the celebration of Spring Festival and new beginnings. The Chinese Lion is an auspicious symbol of strength and good luck. The Lion Dance is used to chase away negative energies and evil spirits that may be inhabiting a space. The sounds of drums and cymbals are used to move stale chi; thus allowing new beginnings. Out with the old and in with the new!!
The Lion is made of a large brilliantly colored Paper Mache head with a flashy colored fabric body. The Chinese Lion Dance is a dance performed by two Kung Fu Martial artists because it requires strength and stamina to perform. Most times the Lion will be accompanied by one or two Buddhas. The Buddhas wear a painted mask with a large smile and a monk’s robe. The Buddhas tease the Lion with a fan. Because it is difficult for Lions find their “food”, red envelopes, etc.
Legend tells of a village in China many moons ago ravaged by a monster with one winter’s eye. The next year, the monster again returned and the people become terrified. Before it could happen a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away. They made loud music with gongs, firecrackers, and drums. They hung red banners everywhere; red to protect against evil. They danced and laughed. The Chinese Lion dance then became a symbolic dance to bring luck and ward off evil. Now, in modern times, the Lion Dance is used as an auspicious start for a business, marriage, Chinese New Year, or any venture in which you want good luck.
Ritual Aspects of the Dance
The pattern of the dance begins with the Lion asleep. The drums, cymbals, and gongs awaken the Lion from its winter sleep. Each musical instrument becomes louder and louder as the lion awakens. As the Lion awakens, he circles, grumbles, and growls. The Lion, when fully awakened bows three times to the audience. Three is known as a perfect number. This bow is a symbol of the blessing he is bringing and respect and honor for your presence.
Since he has just awakened, he begins searching for food to sustain him in his fight against evil. He finds the ‘chin,’ which is usually a green vegetable—the color of money and nature; or a tangerine—the sign of never ending longevity and the color of gold. The lion’s food is usually found dangling on the end of a string or from the ceiling. The fun is watching the talent of Lion standing and gathering the ‘chin, ‘ as the crowd cheers. The noisier you are, the more the Lion plays and performs.
The Lion eats the ‘chin’ and then spits it on the people. This symbolizes spreading the wealth. The spitting is traditionally done three times; to the left, to the right, and to the center. If you are lucky to have the Lion spit on you, it will be a good year for you. As the Lion spits, firecrackers explode, drums grow louder, and people cheer.
He then begins his dance of clearing negative energy from the dwelling, as well as from the people who are witnessing the dance as he restores all to the purest state. People then feed the Lion the red envelopes called Hong Boa. The amount of money in the Hong Boa can be any amount and must be an even number. Odd numbers are regarded as incomplete and unlucky. The Lion continues to dance and bless the dwelling, the make-shift alter, and all who reside there.
As the dance winds down, the Lion cleans himself and bows again to the audiences and bows out of the room or returns to slumber, completing the dream sequence.