Chinese drums

Happy Chinese New Year 2016: Celebrating the Year of the Monkey

A few weeks ago we headed over to First Chinatown in Commissioner Street, Johannesburg CBD to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The Chinese New Year celebrations, organized by the Chinese Association Gauteng, takes place annually in the two Chinatown’s in the Joburg CBD, Commissioner Street (old Chinatown) and Cyrildene (new Chinatown).

In Chinese culture, New Year celebrations usually run from the evening before the first day until the Lantern Festival, on the 15th day of the first calendar month. The first day of the New Year falls on the new moon between 21 January and 20 February.

First Chinatown didn’t disappoint as they welcomed their new year with colourful and vibrant performances which included Chinese drumming, dancing and singing, tai chi and kung fu displays, lion and dragon performances and an amazing fireworks display.


The highlights of the evening for me were definitely the dragon and lion dances as well as the fireworks display which lit up the Joburg CBD skies beautifully.

The dragon and lion dances are a form of traditional dance and performance in Chinese culture and is usually performed at festive celebrations like the New Year. During the dragon dance the team of performers carry a dragon structure, with a recommended size of 34 meters and is divided into 9 major sections, on poles and mimic the movements of this mystical creature. In Chinese culture, the dragon is thought to possess attributes of great power, wisdom, fertility and dignity, amongst others.


The lion dance, on the other hand, is performed by two people inside a lion figure who perform movements that mimic Chinese martial arts. During New Year celebrations and other festivals, the lion visits stores within the Chinese community to perform the custom called “cai qing” (採青) translated to “plucking the greens”, where the lion picks vegetables strung up outside the store by a pole or layed out on a table as well as the red envelope attached to it which contains money and maybe fruits. During this performance, the lion dances and approaches the greens and envelope, eating the greens and spitting out its contents and keeping the red envelope as a reward. In Chinese culture, it is believed that the lion dance brings good luck and good fortune to the business. In this particular performance we witnessed, the lion also lit fireworks in front of each store after performing the cai qing custom. The longer the fireworks went off, the more prosperous the coming year would be for the respective business.

On the Chinese calendar, 2016 is the year of the monkey, which begins on 8 February 2016 – 27 January 2017. The monkey is the 9th animal in the 12 animal Chinese zodiac, with a monkey year occurring every 12 years. 2016 is the year of the fire monkey, whose character is ambitious and adventurous, but irritable.




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