New Year Traditions

UT team prepares as Chinese New Year approaches

The Daily Texan, 31 Jan 2003

Source: The Daily Texan, 31 Jan 2003


New Year Traditions

UT team prepares as Chinese New Year approaches

By Jennifer Nalewicki

Daily Texan Staff

Biting greedily into a head of lettuce, the dragon thrashes its gigantic head wildly from side to side. Opening and closing its red mouth, the dragon reveals rows of rigid teeth. After taking a gulp it darts about in of fresh air, search of its next victim.

A short, chubby man dressed in tattered, yellow rags grabs the dragon's attention as he cools himself with a straw fan. The Happy Buddha playfully taps his fan on the dragon's head, sending the dragon into a fury of anger as it chases the Buddha down the hallway.

Shrieks of excitement and fear permeate the air as dozens of bystanders pray they too won't become the beast's next meal.

Luckily, this is just an act.

The Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team, a UT student organization, puts on performances like the one held Thursday at Wells Branch Elementary School in Round Rock many times throughout the year.

This is just a warm up for their performance Saturday, which is the day of the Chinese New Year.

The team's mission is to share with others one of the many traditions of the New Year holiday.

Nathan Fraser-Chanpong, a member of the organization, feels it is important for others to know about the traditions that su rround Chinese culture.

"The Chinese New Year is a connection to my heritage," said Fraser-Chanpong, an electrical engineering senior who is part Chinese. "I enjoy it because the people around me are seeing this connection too."

The dragon dance, or lion dance as it is commonly known, is perhaps the most spectacular event of the Chinese New Year.

lt tells the ancient Chinese tale of "Nian," which means "year" in Chinese and is also the dragon's moniker.

According to legend, the beast would terrorize Chinese villages. Using its cavernous mouth, Nian could swallow hordes of people and animals in just one gulp.

After living in years of terror, an old man met Nian and explained that humans were not worthy opponents for such a powerful beast. The man told it to instead attack the other beasts in the forest.

Nian agreed.

As soon as the dragon left the village, the man told the people to put up red paper decorations in their windows and doors and to shoot off firecrackers at each year's end to prevent Nian from returning.

The tradition holds true to this day.

In addition the dragon dance, families celebrate the holiday by feastin on sweet dumplings and fish, having lantern construction contests and giving decorated red envelopes called "lai si" or "hung bao" filled with money to the children.


In preparation of the holiday, families clean their homes from top to bottom to rid it of any bad karma left over from the previous year.

"It is believed that if someone sweeps the floors inside the home several days after, they should be careful not to sweep anything out the door, since it sweeps away luck," said Rich Simental, an Asian studies senior and member of the Texas Dragon / Lion Dance Team.

Sharp objects such as scissors and knives are hidden to prevent accidentally "cutting the thread of good fortune."

The most popular event of the Chinese New Year is the dragon parade.

The dragon's papier-mache head and fabric body holds several people, who dance to the beat of drums and a gong, imitating Nian.

The dragon dances from business to business, drawing employees to come out and offer "hung bao," the dancer's payment for the performance. Heads of lettuce containing packets of money are a common gift.

It is considered good luck if the dragon bows down in front of a person's store.

"The dragon is considered good luck," said Simental "People try to touch the fabric of the dragon for good luck."