Galloping into the Year of the Goat
By Natalie Bolderston
Throughout the streets of Chinatown and beyond, the dawning of a New Year was welcomed with wildly carnivalesque revelry. As the Chinese lunar calendar enters a new phase – embodied by the zodiac symbol of the goat – crowds flocked to be part of the cultural marvels which mark this great occasion.
The most popular of the celebrations, and by far the most bustling, was the New Year parade. Dragons, lions, and unicorns frolicked amidst and above the crowds in a bizarre display of festivity. The dragon, perhaps the most iconic of the three, shimmered proudly above its remarkably synchronised puppeteers, darting and writhing in its graceful pursuit of a winged golden sphere. This particular routine has ancient symbolic significance; the dragon is held up as an embodiment of wisdom, power and wealth. Its presence at the parade is thought to ward off evil spirits and misfortune as the New Year is brought in. Similarly, the sphere it follows symbolises the sun, which represents the celebrants’ anticipation of a good harvest.
The lion dance – a routine in which two performers imitate a lion’s movements from under a lion’s costume – was a smaller, but no less striking spectacle. Perhaps the most extraordinary moment was when the traditional ‘plucking the greens’ feat was carried out, during which the performers – under the guise of the lion – appear to scale the side of a building, often five to six metres off of the ground. The lion is then fed symbolic fruits or vegetables dangled from a high window. Such performances were made perhaps all the more impressive by the fact that they were executed in almost relentless rain.
In traditional Chinese culture, the New Year is considered a time of prosperity and promise; accordingly, men in glittering ‘hanfu’* costumes could be seen handing out money-lined red envelopes to the children. Such gifts are seen as tokens of luck and wishes of success for the year ahead.
So, as the first phase of the celebrations draw to a close, all that’s left to do is to wish everyone a hearty ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai!’
*Hanfu – traditional Chinese dress of ancient origin, now often worn during festivals and rite of passage ceremonies.