Gong xi fa cai! (Happy new year in Chinese)
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, which fell on 2nd February, we went to the village of Maenam on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand. Last year had been the first time Chinese New Year had been celebrated there and it had proved so successful that it had been decided to hold another celebration there this year.
Red lanterns were hung from the eaves and over gateways to welcome good luck, wisdom and long life. There was no shortage of nor choice of food on sale at the plentiful stalls lining the streets. There were also lots of other street vendors selling toys, clothes, monkeys carved from coconuts, insects woven from bamboo leaves, soap carvings, leather carvings and sweets galore. There were plenty of places to get something to drink too and one girl was doing a roaring trade selling mojito cocktails. We ended the evening listening to music in a bar appropriately called the Spirit House! Firecrackers were lit as the dragon passed each doorway with ear splitting explosions, producing clouds of acrid smoke, to replicate the older Chinese custom of lighting gunpowder-filled bamboo stems, which causes a small explosion and is believed to drive evil spirits away.
A Chinese street celebration would not be complete without a traditional Lion Dance which is thought to bring good luck. Normally, two very fit and energetic dancers take up the role of head and body and dance through the streets to drums and cymbals. These dances quite often take place on top of a series of poles set at different heights and require a high degree of agility on the part of the dancers. A mirror on the lion’s head reflects the image of any evil spirits that approach to frighten them away.
A Dragon Dance is also a very important aspect of the festival. In Chinese culture, dragons represent good luck, wisdom and long life. The beautiful red and gold dragons of Chinese New year are made of silk and papier mache and may be covered with strings of tiny lights. The colours have significant meaning to the Chinese as red represents luck and joy, and gold represents prosperity. Apparently the longer the dragon, the greater the luck so some dragons can be up to 100m long carried by 30 men, raising and lowering the dragon on poles to make him move. The one we saw in Maenam must have been about 30m long and required about 10 people to carry it. The dragon was led into each business establishment to be “fed” money. Each time the head of the dragon had to go as far as possible into the shop or restaurant and then had to back out and reverse a bit down the road before it could continue on its way. The noise in the street from the exploding firecrackers and drums and cymbals was deafening.
a string of firecrackers outside one of the local bars
finally a very short video of the dragon being taken into one of the local businesses, which will give you some idea of the noise