2017 - The Year of the Rooster
Also known as the spring festival, the Chinese New Year celebrations are marked by rich contrasted pops of colour, fireworks, dragon and lion dancers, and filled with cultures from all over the world curiously joining in to celebrate this sort after celebration. It will leave you immersed in and passionate about this authentic Chinese culture.
I love the temple and I often visit here to run my photography workshops and share in a cup of home made green tea with the residents. I actually look for any reason to visit, so you can imagine the excitement I felt leading up to this day. I was receiving regular updates on our whatsapp groups, and Facebook channels from my friends at the Johannesburg Photowalkers: a very enthusiastic bunch of photographers that shared my excitement.
A century old festival
The Chinese New Year gets celebrated on a different day each year, so it becomes a little tricky trying to plan out your visit, so its best you do some research before you flat foot the hour's drive there.
The new year starts at the beginning of the second new moon after the winter solstice and ends on the full moon fifteen days later with a lantern festival.
The festival is centuries old and gains significance as a time to honour ancestors and deities. Every year is represented by one of the 12 zodiac animals - 2016 was the year of the Monkey, and this year is the year of the Rooster.
It is said that which ever year you were born in, you will carry some of the zodiac animals traits. So to all those people looking at having children this year - your new additions are said to be honest, independent and ambitious. Cheers to easy parenting!
Arriving at the Temple
I arrived at the temple 30 minutes after the start of the celebrations. They say you should clean your house and have a hair cut prior to celebrating. By cleaning your house, it is said to to sweep away bad luck, get rid of negative unwanted feelings and invite good fortune, and a hair cut may stop evil spirits from recognising you and following you into the new year. I figured that since my new years eve and new years day was such a mess (for reasons I will mention in another blog post) I was given another opportunity to turn it around. By the way, I celebrate my new years day on my birthday each year - the 25th December - I figured it was appropriate since my life started then, and the Greeks have a name day so its kinda the same for me.
I parked relatively close to the main entrance. Close being a good few meters walk when I heard the first set of firecrackers go off. This was the start of festivities and a means to scare away evil. I don't recall this being so busy the previous year. I just had to smile - it's growing I thought and South Africa (very much lacking in its own cultural celebrations) is embracing the diversity of one of the many cultures that have made a home in our country.
Both frantic and ecstatic I hurried through the crowd to not to miss out on anything. I must admit I had to push and shove slightly to make my way down the people filled staircase to the main court. I plonked down on the floor covered with the remains of the fire crackers that just went off. White pants and all. The lengths that photographers go to get the shot. Sigh!
The Dragon Dance
I was just in time to catch the dragon dance. This is a team of dancers who manipulate a long flexible figure of a dragon using poles positioned at regular intervals along the length of the dragon.The dance team simulates the imagined movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner.
Wow! Its amazing to see that that many people could create such an incredible movement. It is said that the longer the dragon in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the community. The dragons are believed to possess qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility and wisdom.
Historically the dragon dance brought upon rain and wind and was preformed in times of drought.
Not happy with my view, I spotted Mark and a few other fellow togs through the crowd - and made my way across the court yard and positioned myself right in the middle with a 360 view of the proceedings. Finally I was happy!
The Lion Dance
I had always wanted to witness the lion dancers! Its spectacular, and an art in its self. I didn't know if I wanted to watch them or if I wanted to photograph them. Performers mimic a lion's movements scaring off evil in turn bringing along good luck, wisdom and a long life to those in the crowd. I thought it was incredible that two people per lion could pull off these free flowing movements and increase and decrease in size. What fascinating team work!
I was both amused and slightly scared of the pink masked blue haired man. I am not to sure what symbolism it offers. The mask appeared both childlike and daunting, and later I was surprised to see a caucasian man reveal him self rather than a chinese gentleman.
Food Stalls and Flea Market
There is so much to keep you busy there for a good few hours. The temple is a delicate art piece worth admiring. A range of artwork can be found on the walls, or simply just staring up at some ceilings. In the hallways alongside the temples you can purchase some authentic Chinese eats and green tea. They also have a few vendors selling bamboo sticks, orchids, chinese lanterns, amongst other things. Visit the bright orange coloured wishing tree, write your name on the blue ribbon attached to a money coin and toss it into the tree. If it stays your wish will be granted if it falls to the ground, you are unlucky.
You would also want to visit the temples, especially the main temple where you can light your own incense and make a wish.
If you have missed the new year but would still like to visit I would highly recommend booking a free temple tour.