Kung hey fat choy. Happy New Year and welcome… to the year of the dragon.
Whilst the New Year actually came and went a couple of weeks ago, the festivities continue with local Chinese Communities extending their celebrations beyond the actual New Year weekend itself.
A typical Glen Waverley shopfront
One such community is that in Glen Waverley in suburban Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Glen Waverley has evolved dramatically over the past 20 or so years. From a fairly typical Australian suburban hub at the end of the train line, with all the colour and noise as well as the sizzle and smells from the kitchens of local eateries one could be forgiven for now thinking you were in downtown Hong Kong. Double story shopfronts spruik an array of Chinese, and other asian delicacies with as much, if not more, signage in Chinese characters than in the English alphabet.
You can’t have a Chinese New Years festival without a dragon
Every February, the local Chinese community puts on a colourful festival to mark the New Year. There are food stalls, rides, singing, dancing and martial arts demonstrations. Percussionists ensure that the tempo is kept up-beat throughout. A Dragon winds and weaves his way through the crowd to the sound of clashing cymbals and the pounding of drums.
Martial arts demonstration
The broadsword demonstration
A martial arts practitioner strikes a pose
The colourful outfit of a martial arts performer
Amazing acrobatics by martial arts performers
Still more amazing acrobatics
A demonstration with fans
A breathtaking duel
A tai chi demonstration
A child in traditional costume – and less traditional hat – watches a performance
There is a cultural corner near the library where young artists can try their hand at painting traditional chinese lanterns – be warned folks the paint does take some time to dry and you may want to bring something to put them in to avoid getting everyone’s clothes covered in paint.
The dragon masks are a huge hit
Friendly locals distribute dragon masks to the kids and there is an endless array of weird and wonderful delicacies to try: honey pork jerky, toffee fruits, ice cream beads, Uyghur kebabs as well as yum cha boxes of every description.
Rice cake mix egg
But for us the highlight of the day is without doubt the amazing acrobatics and theatrical humour of the lion dance, a traditional form of Chinese dance. The story behind the lion dance is that long ago, a monk dreamed that there were many evils plaguing the land. The monk prayed to the gods asking how to stop the evil. The gods told him that the lion, the king of the animals would protect them. The monk combined all the animals to make a lion. But the lion was disrespectful to the Jade Emperor who cut off his horn, its source of life, and the lion died. Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy felt sorry for the lion so she tied his horn back on with a red sash and gold leaves and chanted him back to life. If you look closely at a Chinese lion you can see a red sash tied to its horn.
The dancing lion plays to an enthusiastic crowd
Two white lions join in the festivities
The lion dance
Percussionists accompany the lion dance
Detail from the lion’s costume
The lions hurl coloured paper into the crowd
The lions’ legs take a break
The lion dance is an incredibly acrobatic feat which features four lions jumping and prancing around a stage and platform – at one point the lions even toss oranges out to the crowd. The lion dance is accompanied by cymbals, drums and a big-headed doll dancer who winds up the crowd tossing lollies to the children.
A performer tosses lucky sweets to an enthusiastic crowd
The festival also features firecrackers and a parade. All up it is a great fun day out. It does get crowded so if your kids aren’t into crowds it may be one to give a miss. Ditto if they have sensitive ears – although earplugs may be an option. But if your kids are into noise, colour, movement and an array of unusual foodstuffs – it could be just the thing.
Colourful decorations adorn every stall
The ubiquitous red festival lanterns line the main street
What: Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival
Where: Kingsway, Glen Waverley, Victoria Australia (Kingsway is closed to traffic on the day)
When: 11am – 8pm on the second Sunday of the Chinese New year celebrations
Cost: free – but food and rides need to be paid for
How to get there: Trains run from Flinders Street Station directly to Glen Waverley. There is 2 hour parking in the surrounding streets.
What to bring: Water, hats, sunscreen (there is no shade), large plastic bags for carrying painted lanterns, earplugs are a thought if your kids are particularly sensitive to loud noise