Last fall the Beachwood Library called to ask me if I had any programs based on Chinese folktales for a Chinese New Year celebration they were putting together at their library. At the time, I didn’t have any completed programs based on Chinese folktales (although it had been one of my goals!), but I told them that with so much advance notice, I would have plenty of time to research and develop something that fit their needs. They agreed, and immediately I went to work.
Through my research, I became acquainted with many of the unique symbols and traditions that are part of the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. These symbols and traditions led me to dig a bit deeper and try to uncover the origins and meaning behind the traditions. In the end, I came up with a program comprised of three different stories, each unique and each explaining a different facet of the Chinese New Year celebration. Appropriately enough, this new program is called A Chinese New Year Celebration. Below you will find a small taste of the stories included in the program.
The Nian Beast
The first story surrounds the legend of the Nian beast, a horrible man-eating monster that used to come out of hiding to terrorize the Chinese people on New Years Eve. Many different versions of this tale exist and provide explanations for how the people were able to scare him away and live in peace. Many of these methods are still put in practice today during the New Year celebration as the people wear red colors, set off firecrackers and engage in the ever popular Lion Dance.
The Four Dragons
I have been fascinated by dragons ever since I visited Hong Kong when I was fourteen years old. I became obsessed with finding a dragon necklace made out of jade to take home as my souvenir. While I never found that particular combination, I did find a dragon necklace that I still have and wear to this day. The Dragon Dance is another popular tradition of Chinese New Year. Unlike their western counterparts, Chinese dragons are not seen as being evil or scary. Instead, they are powerful and mighty but they use those powers for good. The story of the four dragons explains how these magnificent creatures used their powers to help the Chinese people during a time of terrible drought. It is a beautiful story of compassion and self-sacrifice that also gives insight into the geography of China.
Happiness Upside Down
This is the first Chinese New Year story that I ever came across, and this was long before I’d been asked to develop this performance. The story stood out to me as having special wisdom, and I was thankful for an opportunity to come back to it and share it with others. During Chinese New Year, the Chinese character symbolizing ‘happiness’ and ‘good fortune’ is hung upside down on the door. The Chinese word for ‘upside down’ sounds just like the word for ‘to arrive.’ So Chinese people hang the ‘happiness’ character upside down on their door to say that happiness has arrived in the new year. A story from the Ming Dynasty explains how this tradition came about. It follows an angry Emperor and his wise wife who saves some of her people from her husband’s wrath while teaching him an important lesson in the process. The manner in which the Empress deals with both her husband’s temper and the difficult situation is particularly insightful.
A Chinese New Year Celebration is now available for booking. While the holiday follows the lunar calendar and falls on February 10th this year, the program will be available year-round and is a great introduction to some very interesting facets of Chinese culture. The program is approximately 45 minutes in length. (However those with time constraints may adapt it to fit their needs, electing to have only one or two of the stories included in the performance.)
*I also encourage you to check your local community’s calendar to see if there are any events planned which will give you a glimpse of the holiday. If you’re in the Cleveland area, the Asia Town Center and Asia Plaza both have activities planned. In addition, many Chinese restaurants plan special entertainment, including Lion Dances, during the holiday. So you may want to call to see if/when the Lion Dancers will be making a stop at your favorite restaurant and plan your next dinner outing accordingly!