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Lunar New Year celebrations by Wah Lum Performing Arts

011923 Spotlight Wah Lum Demo Team Lunar New Year.jpg
Wah Lum Temple
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Members of the Wah Lum Performing Arts troupe. Lunar New Year celebrations include a traditional Lion Dance.

The arrival of the Lunar New Year will be celebrated beginning on Sunday.

Events across Central Florida include a decades-old annual performance at the Wah Lum Kung Fu Temple, highlighting traditions like the Lion Dance that are rooted in Asian history and the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. But as performance team leader Mimi Chan points out, the celebrations are for everyone.

Mimi Chan:
Well, this weekend on January 22, kicks off the start of Lunar New Year. And it is a very important holiday in much of Asia, and here as part of the Asian American Pacific Islander community it is a really big holiday for us as well. Especially for those of us who are at the Wah Lum Temple. It is actually a celebration that we started in 1980 in Florida, and I think was one of the first in Central Florida to start celebrating that holiday.

Nicole Darden Creston:
And you have a performance. Can you tell me a little bit about that performance?

Mimi Chan:
Yeah, absolutely. So at my Kung Fu school at the Wah Lum Temple, we kick off the Lunar New Year with a grand opening ceremony. And that consists of lighting the incense to honor our ancestors and also just to kind of bring in luck for the year. And during that ceremony, we also have lion dances - not line, but lion - and we sometimes will have the dragon dance and people often confuse the two. But we have eight lucky lions that will be dancing. We also have firecrackers that will go off. And all of these elements have very significant symbolic meanings to them. But it is definitively one of the iconic ways that you probably would think of when you think of Lunar New Year is seeing that lion dance and hearing those firecrackers. Our students have been doing this for quite a long time. Many of them are performers. We do a lot of shows in the area. But it's a really, really exciting and fun time.

Nicole Darden Creston:
You mentioned the importance of the celebration in the Lunar New Year. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Mimi Chan:
Yeah, absolutely. So the Lunar New Year happens annually, but it changes every year because it is based on the lunar calendar. So this year, it starts on January 22. And one of the things that is really important for the community is kind of ushering in good energy and good luck for the new year and kind of doing away with anything from the past. And so the lion actually represents that it's there to scare away any of the bad elements, especially the firecrackers, those loud sounds are intentionally there as part of the celebration to scare that away. The folklore of the lion is that there was in ancient China a village that was being attacked and plagued. And what they did was built a paper lion to scare away that evil spirit and all of that bad energy, that monster that was the kind of like plaguing the village. And they use that to scare it away. And so like, symbolically, it literally and figuratively was something that they use to get any negativity and any evil out of the air. And so a lot of local businesses, a lot of restaurants, a lot of organizations that celebrate Lunar New Year always want to have the lion dance, because it really is a symbol of good luck, and prosperity for the new year. To clarify, the lion is just two people, so you'll see kind of a head and a tail. And then the dragon is usually like seven to 15 people - a very, very long dragon. So that's how people can kind of tell the difference between the two from a visual standpoint. It's very different. And we do, as lions, like to make sure that we're called lions and not dragons. (laughter)

Nicole Darden Creston:
That is absolutely valid and fair. (laughter) Thank you making the differentiation there.

Mimi Chan:
Yes, yes. And one other aspect I didn't mention that's very traditional, there are a lot of foods that are associated with Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year. In the Chinese tradition, there's specific noodles that are really good luck that represent long life. There are specific candies that you'll only see around Lunar New Year, like little red candies, but also something very lucky that you often see are the red envelopes. And those are good luck envelopes that are given out to the lions, so people will "feed" them. They often have money in them. So they're like an offering to kind of, "Hey, give me extra luck!" So you'll see the lion actually "eat" those red envelopes, but also, traditionally, they're given to one another around New Year. But usually, it's like the elders giving it out to anybody who's unmarried or a child. So they're usually given out to kids. Or if you're like very elderly, you also get to receive those as well. So that's kind of a fun tradition, giving up those red envelopes. And they also, of course, symbolizes good luck.

Nicole Darden Creston:
You mentioned the wider community and businesses here in the area. And I see that there's a celebration of those local community businesses. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Mimi Chan:
Well, like I said, the Wah Lum Temple, we started this in 1980. Obviously, I was a little bit younger at that time, but my father was one of the first to go around and tell people, "Hey, this is something that we do traditionally if you want to be involved," because he came from Boston, Massachusetts, where there's a Chinatown and where it's, you know, very widely celebrated. So some of these businesses have been actually with us since the 80s doing it, especially along the Mills-50 district (in downtown Orlando), we have a really close tie with them wanting to continue on that tradition. So it's really wonderful to see over these last 40-plus years, different generations of family business owners and people who have been continuously carrying that on. So they basically ask us to come in, celebrate with them. We're doing a lot of festivals as well and a lot of AAPI organizations that are having a celebration, they always want to have and invite the lion dance team, because again, that is really truly the symbol of Lunar New Year and ushering in all the good luck.

Nicole Darden Creston:
As you mentioned, people can often get things a little confused if this is not something they grew up with. You mentioned people confusing the dragon dance and the lion dance. What is something that you would really like people to know? Maybe something you get asked about the most?

Mimi Chan:
Honestly, I always get asked about the horoscope Zodiac side of things. And I admit I am not a Zodiac expert. But this is the year of the water rabbit. And you know, there are 12 zodiac signs. And every year it ushers in a new animal. And so that's always very important also, for our community to know which year it is. A lot of us go, "Hey, what year were you born" and you list your animal, right? So this is the year of the water rabbit. And there's also different elements. So every year, it could either be like the earth rabbit, or the fire rabbit. And this year, it's in water element. And of course, all of these things have different meanings for those that follow the Zodiac and study it. I am not an expert in that. But I do know that the rabbit is seen as a very peaceful and lucky animal. And that it symbolizes a lot of hope, which I think is really appropriate for 2023. You know, coming out of the last few years of the pandemic and having people and businesses have so much challenge and struggle, we definitely want to bring in that year of hope for everyone. And again, assuring good luck. And people who see this, I want them to realize that this is something that is cultural and a tradition. But at the same time, as an American, you know, I was born here in the United States and it's definitively also an American celebration. So we can also celebrate Lunar New Year together. And I think it's also great that those of us who didn't get the kickstart in 2023 on January 1st can reset that clock and get our fresh start on January 22 if it didn't go quite the way you wanted. So I think it's nice for us to be able to share this celebration with everybody, not just the Asian American community. So we invite everybody to take part, go and support local businesses who are having these performances and doing something special, maybe offering something special on the menu. Because it is really meaningful to take part and be a part of the community and just kind of come together around something that's really positive. And it's just a lot of fun. So yeah, there's a lot of shows going on from now until February 11th I think is our last booking. So like, you can go to our website wallum.com and you can see all of the public shows that we're doing. We do a lot of private events as well. Some people actually have celebrations in their home, because it's so important to them. So this is really a very important time for family. It's a really important time for people to get together and be around something that's positive and just a celebration.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy. When local issues have received international attention, Nicole has reported worldwide for TV news outlets such as CNN, HLN, ABC, Fox News Channel, and BBC News 24.<br><br>When she’s off duty, Nicole can often be found performing with one of Central Florida’s many theatre companies, or taking in local arts, culture and music.
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