The Lion and the Dragon

On Friday, January 31, San Franciscans, along with Asian friends around the world, will celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Horse or 4712. Chinese San Franciscans have been sharing their culture with a parade marking the Lunar New Year since the 1860s.

In 1958, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce moved the New Year Parade from the daytime to the evening to accommodate their Miss Chinatown contest. The original parade route was in the heart of Chinatown along Grant Avenue. By the 1970s, the parade had become so popular that the San Francisco Fire Department asked that the route be moved to wider streets for safety reasons. The parade and festival is the largest event of this kind outside of Asia. This year, the parade is planned for Saturday, February 15. Beginning at 5:20 pm at Market and 2nd Streets, the parade will travel on Geary, Powell, Post and Kearny Streets.
Here is an overview of the parade from 2012:

An important element of the parade is always the traditional Lion Dance. Quiz: what kind of lions are native to China? Answer: none. So why is the Lion Dance such an important part of Chinese New Year and other celebrations? It turns out that China’s Western neighbors are responsible.

The Chinese established trade routes with the West with the Silk Road as far back as the Han Dynasty, beginning in 206 BC. Traders from the West would be entertained at the monarch’s palace and Westerners saw dancers wearing animal masks, but there were no lion masks. Silk Road traders brought lions to the monarch as gifts. The dance started as a way to showcase martial arts skills. The lion is strong, powerful and thought of as the king of the animals. Admiring these qualities, the Chinese include the Lion Dance in many celebrations, including business openings, weddings and to honor special guests.

The Lion Dance is not as same as the Dragon Dance. Although the lion is revered on the same level as the dragon, the lion is portrayed by two dancers while the dragon needs many people. Here is a clip from the parade that shows both the lion and the dragon:

For details about this year’s New Year Festival and Parade, check out:

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy New Year of the Horse!