We are almost finished with the shows for Chinese New Year (CNY). It’s hard to believe in 2 days we did over 30 performances. I’m not sure why I am always surprised, because this has been our tradition… this is our culture. I only know how to celebrate CNY one way: with lion dancing, kung fu shows, and firecrackers. Lots of firecrackers.
When I was younger and the Temple would go out to perform, we had a lot less participants, which meant a lot more kung fu for the few of us that performed. It didn’t matter. We loved it. As much of a ‘mysophobe’ as I am, CNY was one time I didn’t mind the germs or dirt. Rolling in firecracker dust on the parking lot floor was expected. Exciting even! What is CNY without hearing the drums play over and over in your head before you go to sleep, or coming home and finding firecracker remnants in your hair? No cuts or scrapes? That just means you didn’t celebrate properly.
Ask any performer what the shower at the end of CNY day 1 is like, and they will all tell you the same story. You watch the dirt literally go down the drain, you feel the burn from scrapes you didn’t know you had, you feel amazing to be under the warm water, and could probably fall asleep right there in the shower. That is the essence of CNY. The lunar calendar marks the ‘new year’ for us, a new beginning. We wash away the dirt and negativity from the past, recognize the hardships that will soon be in the past, we embrace the warmth of the new beginning, and we feel the challenges of being tired from hard work… But then we get up and do it again.
I remember telling my students this year after the floor was wet from the rain, “you don’t need to split and roll on the ground.” Sure enough, they get out there and did the split and rolled around on the ground. At first I wondered why they are doing it, I just told them they didn’t need to do it! Why are they getting all dirty? Then I remember how I was at their age, and what I did as a young performer. The excitement of the shows, the adrenalin, and the fun of just getting messy for CNY. Why would I try to stop it?
It’s part of the tradition, part of the culture.
Photos: Courtesy Karl Simpson and Hao Nguyen