Monday, February 21, 2011

Safari #24: New Year's Lion Dances in Chinatown

According to our calendar, we're nearly three months into 2011.  However, if you're looking at the Chinese calendar, the new year began on February 3rd.  In Chinese communities around the world, celebrations have been taking place in the form of festivals and parades.  One such celebration happens every year right in Boston's very own Chinatown.

Firecrackers, banging gongs, and excited crowds drew me to Chinatown to watch the new year's lion dances.  These traditional dances are performed to bring good luck and fortune to local businesses and to showcase the martial arts skills of the lion dancers.  Kung Fu practitioners from local martial arts schools compete in the hopes of receiving a prize from each business.

Vegetables and fruit are left dangling from outside the doors of each business, enticing the lions to visit.   Two dancers perform the dance, with one controlling the head and the other controlling the tail.  Three musicians playing cymbals, drums, and a gong and accompany the lion.  To top it off, a little Buddha escorts the lion as it visits each business throwing firecrackers and causing mischief.

If you're interested in visiting Chinatown for next year's lion dances, here are some tips:
  • Drink Tea and Eat Dim Sum.  Since you're in the heart of Chinatown, visit a local restaurant to partake in Yum Cha, which is the tradition of drinking tea and eating small plates of rich foods like pork dumplings, noodles, or chicken feet (if you please).
  • Take Your Time.  The dances last all day (typically 10am to 5pm) with different martial arts troupes making their way through the neighborhood.
  • Bring Earplugs.  If you're sensitive to loud noises, you may find the firecrackers to be a little intense.
  • Check out Banksy's GraffitiUpdate - it's no longer there.  As is the nature of graffiti art, it was painted over.  Yes, the one and only put one of his stenciled images on a wall in Chinatown.  The graffiti is located on Essex St between Washington St. and Harrison Ave.

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