Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Dragons, Lions, Chinese New Year Traditions in the Year of the Monkey

Photo by Russell Chang

Photo by Russell Chang

2016 is the Year of the Monkey, which kicks off on February 8 and ends on January 27, 2017.

Year of the Monkey. Photo by Lia Chang

Year of the Monkey. Photo by Lia Chang

People born under the sign of the Monkey are wise, intelligent, confident, charismatic, cheerful, loyal, inventive and have leadership.

Joanna C. Lee and Ken Smith Decode the Year of the Monkey with their Pocket Chinese Almanac 2016 at MOCA

BeyondChinatown.com: Where to Celebrate Chinese New Year in New York

THE CHINESE NEW YEAR PARADE: DRAGONS AND LIONS
The most popular event of the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is the Chinese New Year Parade. The actual date is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar and falls in late January or early February. The celebrations last for 15 days, although today, many families celebrate for five. Since the New Year’s festival traditionally marks the beginning of the planting season in China, a major character is a dragon, bringer of rain and good luck.

Dragon dancers at “Madison Street to Madison Avenue” Lunar New Year Celebration on Feb. 6, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Lia Chang

Dragon dancers at “Madison Street to Madison Avenue” Lunar New Year Celebration on Feb. 6, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Lia Chang

“Madison Street to Madison Ave”, A Lunar New Year Celebration on the Upper East Side

In China, the dragon is held in high esteem for its dignity and power for good. Today, highlights of Chinese New Year parades include the huge, undulating cloth dragon and prancing lions, which make their way through narrow streets of Chinatowns around the world. They are accompanied by three musicians playing a large drum, cymbals and a gong, who play loudly to chase the evil spirits away.

Black lion costume and spectators during Chinese New Year Parade, New York Chinatown, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

Black lion costume and spectators during Chinese New Year Parade, New York Chinatown, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

The mask of the lion is made from paper-maché and bamboo, and fits over a dancer’s shoulders. The dancer can move the lion’s eyes, mouth and ears with his hands. The lion’s body, which is attached to the head, consists of a long piece of cloth. It is often decorated with sequins and mock fur. Lion Dances are used to expel evil spirits and bring good luck.

White and Black Lion Costumes in Chinese New Year Parade, New York Chinatown, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

White and Black Lion Costumes in Chinese New Year Parade, New York Chinatown, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

Lion and Dragon masks in Chinese New Year Parade, New York Chinatown, 2002. (Lia Chang)

Lion and Dragon masks in Chinese New Year Parade, New York Chinatown, 2002. (Lia Chang)

The dragon is a huge puppet. The mask made of bamboo or paper-maché is worn by one man, and the long body of brightly colored cloth is carried by the many dancers hidden beneath it.

Lion dancers at “Madison Street to Madison Avenue” Lunar New Year Celebration on Feb. 6, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Lia Chang

Lion dancers at “Madison Street to Madison Avenue” Lunar New Year Celebration on Feb. 6, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Lia Chang

RED AND CHINESE NEW YEAR TRADITIONS
Red is my favorite color. It symbolizes fire and during Chinese New Year, Chinese wear the color red because it is believed that wearing red will scare away evil spirits and bad fortune.

Lia Chang in her custom-tailored red cheongsam from Hong Kong in San Francisco Chinatown. Photo by Marissa Chang-Flores

Lia Chang in her custom-tailored red cheongsam from Hong Kong in San Francisco Chinatown. Photo by Marissa Chang-Flores

The cheongsam or qipao (chipao) was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and was made fashionable by socialites and upper-class women.

Detail of Traditional Red Silk Chinese Robe, circa 1950, 2009. (Lia Chang)

Detail of Traditional Red Silk Chinese Robe, circa 1950, 2009. (Lia Chang)

My grandfather brought this robe from China for my grandmother.

Jade Bracelet and Red Envelopes, 2009. Photo by Lia Chang

Jade Bracelet and Red Envelopes, 2009. Photo by Lia Chang

My mother gave me this jade bracelet, which was given to her by my great-grandmother, during a Chinese New Year’s eve dinner many years ago. The Lai See (red envelopes) with our family Chinese name were given to be my Auntie Pauline. Traditionally, Red envelopes are given during Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried children. The number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for “wealth”), and $8 is commonly found in the red envelopes.

Red symbolizes fire. Photo by Lia Chang

Red symbolizes fire. Photo by Lia Chang

Sweet treats at Eastern Bakery in San Francisco Chinatown. Photo by Lia Chang

Sweet treats at Eastern Bakery in San Francisco Chinatown. Photo by Lia Chang

The goldfish symbolizes abundance of gold. Photo by Lia Chang

The goldfish symbolizes abundance of gold. Photo by Lia Chang

Clementines are symbols of abundance and good fortune in the traditional Chinese culture. Photo by Lia Chang

Clementines are symbols of abundance and good fortune in the traditional Chinese culture. Photo by Lia Chang

The mask of the lion is made from paper-maché and bamboo. Photo by Lia Chang

The mask of the lion is made from paper-maché and bamboo. Photo by Lia Chang

Sesame Street’s Alan Muraoka and Puppeteers, Lion Dancers, Ribbon Dancers, Martial Artists and Korean Fan Dancers perform at Lunar New Year #MetFest

THE KING AND I’s Lainie Sakakura Ushers in the Year of the Monkey at P.S. 87 with Broadway Pals Ann Harada, Jose Llana, Telly Leung, Amaya Braganza, Sam Tanabe, Belinda Allyn, James Ignacio and YoonJeong Seong

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2016 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachang.com

One comment on “Dragons, Lions, Chinese New Year Traditions in the Year of the Monkey

  1. myra velasquez
    February 8, 2016

    aah, so great to see, Lia!!! Bless & Gung Hey Fat Choi, Year of the Monkey!

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