On Sunday, after church, we went to the Chinese New Year Parade in DC.
It was fantastic.
About a year (actually, a lunar year, almost exactly) ago, I read a book about Chinese New Year to Silas. He really wanted to go to a dragon parade. Unfortunately, it had just happened–only a few days before. So we’ve been waiting to do this for a whole year. It was worth the wait.
We met up with my mom and Gary, as well as some folks I sort-of know from when we were both expecting our now-three-year-olds. We took the Metro into the city (we had to change once each way, so Silas was very excited that he got to ride FOUR trains) and emerged at the Chinatown station to the smell of gunpowder and fried dumplings.
We took forever to figure out where to take the kids to the bathroom (National Portrait Gallery, FYI), and as we came out, the parade was getting underway.
There were some elements that would be familiar from any parade–lots of drums, lots of people throwing candy, lots of people offering little fliers about their tangentially related event.
There were people in costumes, of course, but this was far beyond our customary “guy in a reindeer suit” sort of thing. They were practically all dancing, with skill and precision.
There were two kinds of puppets (besides these full-body ones): lions and dragons. The dragons were held up on poles, and the people made them swoop up and down in spirals as they chased a golden ball, representing the sun.
The lions had two to four people under a sheet-like costume, with one of them wearing a big head mask. The masks’ eyes and mouths opened and closed as they danced.
I had invited a Chinese EMU person we know to come with us, but she was busy. I wish she had been there–I would have loved to have had an interpreter to tell me what some of the things were. I only know as much as we have learned from children’s books on the subject.
One thing that I found striking was the multicultural nature of the event. Before we went, I thought that the one thing about this event that might make me uncomfortable would be if it was one of those things were a bunch of tourists come and gawk at the cultural event (which is exactly what we planned on doing). I had mixed feelings on that. But I was amazed to find that it was an inclusive event. It definitely was Chinese, of course, but many different races were represented among the participants as well as the spectators.
I was surprised to see a bunch of American flags, too. It was like the people were making a strong statement about retaining their heritage, while celebrating the American-ness of their ability to do so.
The parade wasn’t very long, but it was super awesome. There were no dull moments. No duds.
Afterward, we went to have a late lunch at a dim sum restaurant (it was…too trendy of a place to have taken the children, but it’s what we found). I go to the city so rarely that I don’t know where to go for different things, like, say, a mom-and-pop-ish back-alley Chinese restaurant. We should work on that, because I do love Chinatown.
As we came out of the restaurant, we heard lots of loud popping and banging. We followed the noise to the Chinatown gate, where some of the street was blocked off. We could see a crowd of people, but couldn’t see much of what was going on beyond them.
It turns out that there was some kind of lion dance-off going on. There were several lions dancing around each other in a circle. They were surrounded by dancers waiting to jump in, so the lion sidled up to the crowd, and the fabric flipped, and then there was a different dancer in there. They were amazing. One guy did a backflip while still in the lion train. Another stood up on his teammate’s shoulders to make a very tall lion.
Next year, I’m going to scheme a way to get where we can see this better. The glimpses I caught were incredible, but I was quite far away. The music was awesome–just drums, but lots of them, and totally unrelenting. Petra bounced and jumped in the Ergo because she couldn’t help but dance.
Oh, and all this time, fireworks and poppers were going off, at close range. Next year–ear plugs!
After the lion dance was over, several street sweepers came and replicated their dance, circling each other as they vacuumed up the detritus from the fireworks.
Silas loved it, and laughed and squealed at all sorts of things. The expression I kept noticing on his face the most, though, was one of careful and deep watching. He could have watched these folks dance for ages.
God willing, we’ll be back next year. Which leaves us with just one question: