British Columbia·Our Vancouver

Chinese New Year lion and dragon dances bring prosperity, good luck

2016 marks the Year of the monkey but at many Chinese New Year's celebrations the dragon and lions will be taking centre stage.

In Chinese culture dragons represent power, and lions symbolize strength

Lion and Dragon Dance -- the significance

6 years ago
Duration 5:03
A backgrounder on the rituals associated with the Lunar New Year tradition

While 2016 marks the year of the monkey, it's lions and dragons that take centre stage at many Chinese New Year's celebrations.

In Chinese Culture, the lion symbolizes strength, stability and superiority, while the dragon represents power, boldness and excellence.

Dances for both the auspicious creatures are performed during festive occasions as a means to chase away evil spirits and welcome in prosperous times.

"If you have a new dragon or lion you actually have to do an eye-dotting ceremony for them just to give them the spirit and make them alive," said Eugenia Chau, who is on the team of the Vancouver Chinese Lion Dance Association and also trains others.

'Give it the spirit'

"You use this brush and red paint, normally with ginger as well. Then you get someone like a master, to dot the eyes of the lions and dragons to give it the spirit."

Performing a dragon dance can require up to 100 people, while a lion dance is usually performed by two people. 

Both traditions date back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC –220 AD) in China.

There are many folklore stories as to how the lion dance came to be.

According to one legend, a monster referred to as Nian kidnapped children and terrorized villages.

Feed the lion lettuce

One year, a lion defeated and chased the monster away — who vowed to return. The villagers did not have the lion to protect themselves, so they used a lion costume to scare away the monster the following year.

Dancers feed the lion used in the dance during the event with lettuce, because the Chinese word for "lettuce" sounds similar to the word for "wealth."

"So the lion will eat the wealth and spit it back out to the owners or the audience to give them prosperity," Chau said.

The vibrant lion and dragon dances can be seen in action at the 43rd Chinese New Year parade in Vancouver on February 14th.

CBC Vancouver will be in the parade as well.

In the video above Chau explains the significance and history of these dances to Our Vancouver host Gloria Macarenko. 


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