CHASING AWAY THE BEAST OF THE PAST YEAR

There once lived a beast which came down from the hills to devour the crops meant for harvest in the villages, causing much fear, despair and disharmony amoung the villagers. This took place at or around the Chinese New Year season or the Spring Festival when it was time for the past year's efforts to bear fruit.



Unable to tolerate it any longer, the villagers gathered and decided to take on the beast and drive it back to where it belonged. They dressed up as a ferocious lion, manned by one for the head and the other, the rear. With the consistent banging, fire torches, war cries and prancing of the lion that matched the ferocity of the beast, the villagers managed to overpower it and return the deserving peace to the village. They broke into a celebration known to us today as the Chinese New Year celebrations.


This beast came to be known as the Year (年)and the act of valour is what we know now as the Lion Dance(舞狮). This was of course, the myth carried down by the generations but the celebrations and tradition carries on today as 'crossing into the New Year' festival(濄新年). Lion dances have evolved into a branch of Chinese martial arts that instil core strength, dedication, discipline and the observance of reviving new energies.


In another legend, the emperor Qian Long(乾隆)was said to have dreamt of a mystical animal that resembled the lion (at a time when lions did not exists in China) and ordered a manifestation of this creature as a symbol of celebrations for festivities. As he was touring Guandong province, the Southern China lions, which are more colourful and acrobatic in moves, were born.


These are the lions we know today that will make its way to homes and offices when someone moves in a new premise, bringing along the hope of a new beginning and prosperity. Together with the drums and gongs in perfect unison, the lions, usually in a pair, will breathe life into the corners of the homes and offices to symbolize a fresh new start. In the past, asian societies lit the firecrackers to add to the pulsating and boisterous atmosphere. Most prevalent during the fifteen days of the Chinese New Year season, lion dances are also featured in many celebrations and opening ceremonies of events.


The lion dance captures the imagination of all Chinese, local and overseas, and are enjoyed by all races and cultures. The significance of it all boils down to its original intention of 'chasing away the evils of the past year'.


Today, in the midst of the pandemic, lion dance performances are prohibited for good measure of public safety. The image of the lion is also symbolic of courage, strength, vigour, tenacity and the wisdom to make the new year a good one. Chinese families continue to paint and put up drawings or pictures of the lion dance on their front doors in the hope of putting behind the miseries of the year's past, so appropriate as it is today.


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