In my perception, Chinese Ney Year is inseparably linked to rich symbolic imagery, ancient superstitions, delicious foods, and colorful festivals. It is possible to say that the Golden Dragon Parade, which takes place in the Chinatown of Los Angeles every year since the very beginning of the 20th century (Golden Dragon Parade), reveals the nature of this traditional holiday to its full. The event was planned on February 17.
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When I arrived at the destination an hour before the intended start, the crowd was already gathering. Many children and adults were wearing red garments including festive traditional clothing with golden embroidery on them. Some ladies were holding Chinese paper umbrellas trying to hide from the sun. One could hear the petards blasting from every side once in a while. From the very beginning, it was possible to feel a thrilling atmosphere of waiting for something big and miraculous. Then the major and the most exciting part of the celebration, the parade itself, began.
Golden Dragon Parade
Under a loud accompaniment of drums and percussions, a long procession headed by young people carrying colorful flags slowly paced along the Broadway street. Behind them, the large dragon puppets were waving and zigzagging from one side of the street to another. Most of the Chinese visitors tried to touch the dragons, and a few of them even managed to feed the puppets (and the gods whom they personify) with red envelopes − for good luck in the following year. After a short period of observation, it became evident that a plethora of practices, small attributes such as color and decorations, and the very idea of gathering together inherent with Chinese New Year has a deep meaning and implications, which may seem bizarre for those unfamiliar with this tradition.
This field experience inspired me to research a little bit more about the customs, symbolism, and rituals involved in the celebration. It turned out, the Dragon Dance (also known as the Lion Dance) dates at least two centuries back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) (China Highlights).
At those times, the ceremony had a purely religious meaning, while at the later stages, it started to serve as entertainment as well. Nevertheless, even today, many Chinese people see the dancing dragon (lion) as “an agent of Heaven” who can break bad formations and save anyone from misfortunes (Yap 232). The given New Year tradition drastically contrasts the American one.
Christmas, as an equivalent to Chinese New Year, is rather quiet time. Of course, during the holidays, we are all full of similar festive sentiments as Chinese people are during the New Year, and perform our rituals, many of which resemble those practiced by Chinese. However, the origins of the majority of Western celebrations are by far less prominent, and they appear to be much more conservative in their character. At the same time, the Golden Dragon Dance reminds me about some traditional pagan festivals that take place across Europe: they all have their roots in antiquity and are based on complex astrological and alike belief systems.
Golden Dragon Parade was undoubtedly a remarkable experience, which provided me with an opportunity to deepen the insight into a different culture. From a particular perspective, the parade held in Los Angeles can be regarded as a celebration of American cultural diversity. It reveals how different and yet similar distinct traditions may be and signifies that they may perfectly get along together within one social context.
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China Highlights. “Chinese New Year Dragon Dance.” China Highlights, 2017. Web.
Golden Dragon Parade. Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, 2018. Web.
Yap, Joey. The Art of Lion Dance. Joey Yap Research Group, 2016.