Lion Dance

“A lean dog shames its master.” -Chinese proverb

Chinese New Year (January 31st) is about wealth and prosperity. The common Cantonese phrase said during this time is “Gung Hay Fat Choy,” which can be translated to “Wishing you good fortune!”

A staple in new year festivities is the lion dance. (Lion dances can also be held on other special occasions, like weddings or new business openings.) The first recorded lion performance dates back to third century B.C.

I remember seeing lion dances as a child. They were raucous times with the popping of firecrackers and the loud banging of drums. I was always amazed at the brilliant colors and features of the lions, plus the skill of the people hidden underneath the lion’s body. Some distinguishing features of the lion dance are:

  • Lion versus Dragon. Often confused with dragons, lions are shorter animals. They are usually manned by two people who control the head and tail. Dragons are longer and require more people to maneuver poles to move the animal.
  • Northern Lion. Northern lions are seen in Beijing opera or acrobatic performances. They are more realistic than Southern lions and feature a mane and four legs.
  • Southern Lion. These are more stylized creatures, often created by using a drape material, and they look similar to dragons (without the horns and a snout).
  • Kung Fu. Performers who create the movements of the lion are skilled martial artists. They time very specific actions to the music of drums, gongs, and cymbals.
  • Eating the Greens. The lion will  pounce on the cheng, usually a vegetable like lettuce, to usher in an auspicious new year. (The word for vegetable sounds a lot like “fortune.”)

The lion chews up the lettuce and throws it to the left, right, and the middle, spreading prosperity in all directions.

Southern lion

Southern lion

Wishing you a Happy New Year, and hoping that favor finds you this year!

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  1. Happy New Year to you!

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