By KELLY TOM
Each year, many students at Washingtonville High School participate in a tradition that not everyone is familiar with: Chinese New Year. While many people believe that this ancient tradition is just a hobby, that is not the case. It is actually a holiday that has been celebrated since as early as the 14th century B.C.
|KELLY TOM FOR THE WIZARD WEEKLY|
A long time ago, it was an ancient tradition for lions to come out to scare evil spirits away and bring luck to the new year. These were no ordinary lions; they were crafted lions made of colorful bamboo paper, wood, fake fur and pom poms. People would wear these beautiful lions and create lots of noise with drums, cymbals, a gong and firecrackers. “The lions would go through the village trying to scare away anything bad that might be to come while welcoming in the new year with a clean slate,” informed Jan Lee and Kevin Tom, members of a Chinese lion dance club called the Chinatown Community Young Lions.
Every year in Chinatown, located in Manhattan, there are new year celebrations that consist of lions parading through the streets of Chinatown while blessing every store and establishment to cleanse them for the new year. Sam Garcia, a senior at WHS, stated “I’d say it’s super unique compared to other cultures and traditions. Everyone who participates in it celebrates it in a way that’s full of such life and energy. It’s great to be able to witness something so spirited and distinct to the Chinese culture.”
This annual tradition consists of several steps. The ornate lions bless each store by bowing three times conjointly with the drums, cymbals and gong. Garcia has participated in Chinese New Year celebrations for the past three years and claimed that it’s “definitely the most memorable and exciting experience I’ve ever taken part of. My favorite memory would be listening to the powerful music and watching colorful confetti rain from the sky.”
Another fun tradition is the use of confetti poppers that replaced fireworks after they were banned in New York City in 1996. Firecrackers are still an important part of the tradition elsewhere and, when used, all the bad spirits leave with the smoke of the firecrackers, according to Tom. Many in Chinatown have been petitioning to get this important part of their culture back.
Kayla Diliberto, a junior at WHS who has grown up participating in this tradition, reminisced, “Growing up with a background that most people didn’t have is an incredible experience. Our traditions and cultures are so distinct, and it’s really cool to be a part of something like that.” Maya Diaz, also a senior, grew up following the traditions of Chinese culture as well and “always looks forward to this every year.” Maya traditionally celebrates the new year by watching the parade and having a new year’s dinner with her family.
Those who grew up immersed in Chinese culture, are no strangers to yet another yearly tradition that consists of receiving red envelopes. According to Tom, the red envelope is “a gift given from married couples to children filled with money or candy for good luck and prosperity.” Kayla says that the “Hung Baos (red envelopes) are one of the best things about new years” and it is her personal favorite aspect of the tradition.
|A colorful lion wards off evil on the streets of Manhattan.|
Many are awestruck when they learn of the emphasis of these unique traditions. Brendan Pardo, a senior at WHS who experienced Chinese New Year for the first time this year, claimed, “to think that a parade as huge as this goes on every single year and I never even considered witnessing it before, blows my mind. Chinese communities such as the Young Lions, are so good at what they do and I am very grateful that I had this opportunity.”
Chinese New Year only happens once a year, but the celebrations span over the course of approximately two weeks. “Being involved in the culture and traditions of Chinese New Year is something I’d definitely do a hundred times over if I could. I loved every second of the environment and I really enjoyed seeing all of the beautifully crafted lions,” stated Brendan.
These celebrations happen every year in Chinatown and everyone is welcome to enjoy the festivities. For more information, visit the website to the Chinatown Community Young Lions at http://www.cyounglions.org/.