Gung Hay Fat Choy!
2012, the Year of the Dragon, is considered to be the luckiest year in the Chinese Zodiac; the positive energy and excitement bubbling in my gut started this past week, and now I know exactly why. There's been a stirring and a wonderful growth, like a creative seed that's been waiting for its stem to come up from the ground; something magical is in store for Bare Feet™ in 2012 (the stars say so!). Today was the first day of what is traditionally a 15-day long celebration, ringing in the new lunar year, ending the past winter season and announcing the arrival of spring. Ironically, with the rain coming down and the temperature dropping, I headed to New York City's Chinatown, the largest Chinatown in the US and this side of the Pacific, to see the many groups who would be celebrating and showing off their dancing lions. Youth groups lead by older generations of Chinese-New Yorkers, passing down the timeless tradition and performing the symbolic dance of the mythical dragon-figure to their children, this holiday reminded me that although New York is a true melting pot, this neighborhood in downtown Manhattan is an island of its own: the people have their own language, written characters, food, and of course their own celebrations.
While walking down the streets of Chinatown, some formerly parts of Little Italy that slowly began to recede to a mere four-block radius, you could hear the constant *snap* and *pop* of the firecrackers and poppers that were being sold out of every small shop. The windows were adorned with red, the most auspicious color, and noisemakers and decorations of every kind were swaying with the wind, unless they were lucky enough to be covered by a plastic tarp as protection from the damp weather.
Organizations like the Golden Lion Club and the Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club, all comprised of Chinese-Americans who live in the neighborhood, proudly showcased their troupes of drummers, lion dancers, and jokers of the Chinese tradition. I overheard a young man explaining to a nearby tourist that the traditional character leading the dance with a fan and wearing the comical mask (exaggerated features, pudgy-faced and smiling) is a household icon in the Chinese tradition, known as a jester or even a trickster. His or her job during the New Year's celebrations is to tame the lion and keep the wild beast on its course, ushering in the new year while warding off evil spirits that may have lingered from the last. By luring the creature out from its place of hiding (usually a local shop) and releasing it from its timidity, the lion is able to go out into the world with ferocity and spirit.
All years must end, and then immediately a new one begins to continue the endless cycle - what a beautiful yet simple way to think of starting this new time, with the gusto and fierce energy of the Chinese Lion, leaving your reservations behind you and dancing to a rhythm that will thrust you only forward in this world. Welcome, Year of the Dragon, and Happy New Year!