When we think of New Year celebrations, we automatically imagine it being December 31st and a big party with family and friends all singing along to Auld Lang Syne. It is almost hard to imagine that over 2 billion people worldwide celebrate Chinese New Year, that’s approximately the same amount of people that celebrate Christmas. Unlike the calendar New Year (January to December), Chinese New Year follows the cycle of the moon. This means a year runs between 353 to 355 days or 12 full cycles of the moon and results in Chinese New Year celebrations falling on a different day each year. 2022 is the year of the Tiger, one of the most sought-after years to be born in after the year of the Dragon of course (I was born in Singapore in the year of the Horse). Chinese New Year for 2022 started on February 1st.
Another major difference is that we celebrate Chinese New Year for over 15 days. Imagine that party? All 15 days are filled with lots of traditional food including dumplings, spring rolls, noodles, Baos (white steamed buns with various fillings), Niangao (Glutinous rice cake) and Tangyuan (sweet rice balls). It is also traditional to give out Ampao’s (red packets) filled with money along with two mandarin oranges to your family and friends. One of the hardest things for me adapting to living in the UK was getting used to western food. Even Asian food in the West isn’t the same. I crave spices and flavours from home especially during this time of year. Now the food isn’t all I was missing; I missed the entertainment. Everywhere over the 16 days in Singapore, there were lion dancers. They would perform in the streets underneath apartment blocks.
The Lion Dance is a traditional Chinese dance performed in many countries across Asia. The dancers perform a choreographed dance to mimic a lion’s movements. The dancers don a lion costume and dance to the beat of a group of drummers; the dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to those who watch it. The lion dance has been performed across Asia for more than a millennium. But why a lion costume? As for most things in Chinese culture, it comes down to a legend. It is believed that during the Tang Dynasty, the Emperor at the time experienced a terrifying nightmare where he was saved by a Lion. The symbolism of the lion dance is to scare away any bad spirits and welcome the New Year with peace, luck, and fortune. So how was a Singaporean girl living in the UK going to be able to experience a proper Chinese New Year? I could replicate the food but I definitely was not agile and acrobatic enough to perform a lion dance myself. So, I looked up lion dancers and came across the Shaolin Buddhist Temple in county Meath, Ireland. Luckily for me, I could invite the monks to perform the traditional lion dance for me.
At the Shaolin Buddhist temple, they house performers from the Lung Ying Academy. They have decades of experience performing all over Ireland from large arenas to small private events. The team consists of 4 musicians and 2 lion dancers. I was over-the-moon when I connected with the people at the Shaolin Buddhist temple, and they said that they could perform for me and my group of friends. I love that Ireland and the UK alike are so open to welcoming and experiencing different cultures. It takes all sorts to make a world. I have to say that their performance was so authentic and with every beat of the drum, I was transported back to my childhood in Singapore. It is a very emotional performance when you understand the meaning behind it.
If you are interested in seeing a live performance, don’t hesitate to contact the temple via their website contact form Shaolin Buddhist Temple Contact (kungfu.ie) . They are phenomenal artists and just like the entire industry were deeply affected by the pandemic. They not only perform but run classes on meditation, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Qigong and Lineage. Along with the provision of classes, they offer natural therapy massages, counselling, workshops, and retreats. It really is a wonderful place to visit and enjoy entertainment that you may not have ever experienced before. In the words of the Monks from the Shaolin Buddhist Temple, “All human beings with kindness in their hearts, regardless of religious background, are welcome to join us”. With that, I wish you all a very Happy Chinese New Year.