Year of the Tiger welcomed

January 25, 1998|By DON AINES

Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

click below for larger image

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Lions dancing to the beat of ceremonial drums, gongs and cymbals ushered in the Year of the Tiger during a Chinese New Year celebration Sunday in downtown Charles Town.

Traffic was routed around the intersection of Washington and George streets, where Robert and Shu Chen, owners of Shu Chen Restaurant, were hosting the celebration of year 4,879 in the Chinese lunar calendar.

"The Year of the Tiger is supposed to be an aggressive year. If there is something you want to do, this is the year to accomplish it," said Tai Yim, owner of Kung Fu martial arts schools in Kensington, Md., and Fairfax, Va.


As a sideline, Tai offers lion and dragon dancing for Chinese holidays, although the Chinese New Year doesn't actually begin until Wednesday. Until then, it's still the Year of the Ox.

"The reason why we celebrated today is all the lions teams are very busy" performing at other celebrations, Robert Chen said. He said he has hired lion dancers several other times, including for a Christmas parade a couple of years ago.

Tai said the lions - two men under a highly stylized costume - represent "beasts that escape from heaven." According to the 1,800-year-old tradition, the beasts pick out one person to devour during the first day of the new year.

The Chinese traditionally spend the first day of the new year at home and Tai said placating the lions is part of the celebration. Atop a stepladder, Shu Chen held out a head of lettuce at the end of a long pole.

Tai said lettuce is a symbol of prosperity and the coming of spring in China. As one lion attempted to grab the lettuce, Shu Chen raised it higher, prompting other dancers to raise the front end of the lion on a platform until it could reach the prize.

As Tai explained it, the lion becomes sick from the vegetable and forgets about eating people. It then serves as protector of the village.

"It's a story of evil turning to goodness," he said.

The drums represented the roaring of the lions and the gongs and cymbals were the efforts of the people to scare the lions away. The celebration was topped off by a long string of firecrackers that filled the air with blue smoke and red confetti.

"The Chinese people like the Year of the Tiger and the Year of the Dragon a lot," Robert Chen said. They like the tiger for its promise of great activity, and the dragon as a celebration of China's imperial past, he explained.

"In Taiwan, we have dragons a hundred feet long," he said. He came to the United States from there 25 years ago and he and his wife opened the restaurant in late 1985.

He said this year is like a silver anniversary, since the Chinese calendar goes through a 12-year cycle represented by different animals, including the ox, cock, dog and rat.

The celebration, which was attended by more than 100 people, was also the couple's way of thanking the community.

"Since we are here 12 some years, we really appreciate we've been accepted as friends," Robert Chen said.

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