Gung hay fat choy! Happy Chinese New Year! This year Chinese New Year is on February 1 and it is the year of the Tiger. Each year is based on an animal from the Chinese Zodiac which operates on a 12 year cycle. If you were born in the years 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, or 2022, you are a Tiger! The date of Chinese New Year varies each year (similar to Easter, it is determined by a lunar calendar), but Chinese New Year is generally in late January or February.
Upon searching the National Archives’ collections for this blog post on Chinese New Year, I found a film, Chinese New Year Parade (Lion Dance), Saigon, Vietnam in the 342-USAF collection, Moving Images Relating to Military Aviation Activities, 1947-1984. This film is a silent, but full color film showing a Chinese New Year parade from February 1964. It shows a Lion Dance; acrobatics; drums and gongs; and martial arts.
The official catalog card description reads “Coverage of Chinese New Years Day and Lion Dance in Saigon, a traditional celebration in which mock battles, dances, and acrobatics are included. This dance was put on for American servicemen and spectators, including Army Maj Gen Stillwell.” Notes from the textual records associated with this film indicate that this film was “…one in a series of projects designed to provide background local color of the Saigon area for possible inclusion in film reports, etc., as a contrast to the war in Vietnam.”
Chinese New Year is a time for families to gather and celebrate with each other; and share big meals. Certain types of foods with symbolic meanings are eaten, like noodles to represent longevity and dumplings to represent wealth. Other tradition include older generations passing out red envelopes to the younger generations, with money in them for good luck; and wearing clothes in the lucky color red and hanging up red lanterns and other decorations.
Chinese New Year is also often celebrated with parades, firecrackers and fireworks. Firecrackers, fireworks, loud drums and gongs are used to scare off evil spirits from the past year. Lion and Dragon dances are often performed during parades to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year. In the United States, San Francisco and New York have elaborate Chinese New Year parades.
Below are some clips from this film as well as the full length film: