Lion dance ushers in Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

The 15-day New Year celebrations in China’s bustling city of Hong Kong should be on everyone’s bucket list of travel experiences. Welcome to the Year of the Dog.

In Hong Kong, when the Christmas trimmings come down, Spring Festival decorations start popping up in anticipation of one of the most electrifying Chinese New Year celebrations in the world.

According to Hong Kong Traveller, festivities last 15 days, filled with fireworks, drumming, cymbal crashing, and most important, lion dancing.

The dance is central to New Year celebrations as it is believed to bring good fortune. Businesses in particular hire the acrobatic dancers from kung fu schools, believing the lion will usher in prosperity.

Steeped in legend

The lion dance is tied to a couple of Chinese legends, according to Raymond Keung, a master of Jow Ga Kung Fu in Johannesburg and a native of Hong Kong. The most popular is of a monk who managed to tame the beast.

The Jade Emperor received a lion as a gift from a Persian envoy but he could not pacify it. Many tried to calm it but all failed until a peaceful monk appeared and tamed it. Today, at some celebrations, a large-headed monk – or rather a dancer in a monk’s mask – accompanies the lions in the dance.

Lions can be made of different materials and be different colours, but all have the common characteristics of large eyes with eyelids that open and close, shaggy hair, a horn on its head and a tufted tail. Each lion is operated by two people.

According to Silverkris, a Singapore Airlines travel guide, the lion’s horn fights evil and the mirror on its head dispels negative energy.

Culinary website, Asian Inspirations, says the head of the lion and the movement of its eyelids bring vitality and longevity, while its tail sweeps away bad fortune and unpleasant things from last year.

A dancer in a monk's mask. In the legend of the lion, a monk is said to have tamed the beast for the Jade Emperor. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

A dancer in a monk’s mask. In the legend of the lion, a monk is said to have tamed the beast for the Jade Emperor. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Year of the Dog is looking good

This year’s festival marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog. Celebrated on 16 February, the New Year also ushers in spring in Asia. During the Year of the Dog finances will be great for those who are proactive, hardworking and communicate well. However, health may be an issue.

What else to do in Hong Kong during the Spring Festival

CNN Travel urges tourists in Hong Kong to head off to the Sha Tin Racecourse for the Chinese New Year Race. Held on the third day of the Spring Festival, it is one of the most popular days on the racing calendar. The race promises to be exhilarating for anyone looking to have a good time. Besides betting on the horses, the event consists of performances to keep non-gamblers happy.

Other activities include the Chinese New Year night parade in Tsim Sha Tsui, a fireworks display over Victoria Harbour, the Che Kung Festival where devotees of the legendary military figure whirl fan-bladed wheels and beat a drum to pray for good fortune in the coming year, and the Well Wishing Festival, which includes tying wishes to a wishing tree or releasing wishing lanterns into the night sky.

Where else to experience the Chinese New Year

If you want to experience New Year celebrations elsewhere, why not try some of the other cities SAA flies to.

Chinatown in San Francisco is abuzz throughout the 15-day festival with parades – which includes a 28-foot-long golden dragon float – and performances galore.

Similarly, New York City’s Chinatown is also rocking at this time of the year. Timeout New York says the city will be chock-full of dragon dances, vibrant floats and yummy vendor foods.

Johannesburg’s Cyrildene and Chinatown in the city centre also promise a vibrant experience, with kung fu schools performing lion dances and restaurants offering the best in Chinese cuisine.

The Nan Hua Buddhist Temple in Bronkhorstspruit, a short drive away from Johannesburg, also hosts weekend-long festivities.

If you are looking for the biggest New Year celebration outside of Asia, then London is your best option, says CNN Travel.

“The day begins with a colourful Chinese parade that winds its way through the streets of the downtown West End district, followed by stage performances in Trafalgar Square. There are traditional dance troupes, acrobats, dragon and flying lion dances, opera and martial arts acts. The grand finale in Trafalgar Square ends with a fireworks spectacular.”

Just watch the London celebrations unfold below.

If you want to be part of the celebrations in Hong Kong, New York, London or Johannesburg, make sure you book with South African Airways.