One of my first memories as a child takes place on a little island in Malaysia, where I spent the first ten years of my life. It is a mix of fascination and terror as these giant lions and dragons moved to the beat of drums, climbed ladders, collided, and danced. Despite the tears and squeals of fear coming from 5-year-old me, I peered out from behind my mom and stared in awe at what they were doing. Today, it is still one of my favorite things to watch and admire — the teamwork, dedication, flawless movement, balance, etc., that it takes to execute is ethereal — but now I want to be front and center to take it all in.
Chinese New Year was always a fun, exciting time for me as a little girl — the decorations, a never-ending string of firecrackers and their smell that lingered, desserts and vast displays of food, and let’s not forget the ang pows (red envelopes) filled, in my case, with ringgits. The 15-day celebration was no joke, and each year, I may have looked forward to it more than Christmas because you could truly feel it in the air, and let’s be honest, it lasted longer.
Based on the legend of Nian (Year), the wild beast was afraid of light, loud noises, and the color red. So how better to chase him away than firecrackers, red lanterns and decorations, lion and dragon dances, and all the different traditions that remain to this day? This is a time to prepare for the year to come by cleaning your home prior to the New Year to sweep away any bad luck that is hanging around, celebrating your ancestors and past with offerings to let them know they are not forgotten and still honored, and by sharing time with family and loved ones while sharing a meal and stories.
Each Chinese zodiac sign only comes around every twelve years, and as such, each child born in this Lunar Year will be born in the year of the Tiger. Tigers are successful and independent, although they have been known to be volatile. But with this year being the year of the Water Tiger, we should see strength, courage, and hopefully, the water element continues to bring prosperity and flow as it is said to do.
If you fall into the research rabbit hole, you will find many dos and don’ts, all with very specific reasons behind them to ward off evil or bad luck and start the New Year on the right foot. My only advice to those who have the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year is to enjoy the moment, focus on the positive, breathe in the firecracker-laden air, think of those you love (without crying!), wear red, eat foods you may have never had the chance to try surrounded by people you love…and if you can find lion dances and dragon dances near you, GO!