By Sue Botos
Diners at Pearl of the Orient on Saturday looked up from their plates when they heard the drum and cymbals announcing the awaited start of the Lion Dance. An elaborately attired “lion,” covered with gold glitter, white fringe and other symbols of good fortune, soon entered, wiggling his ears and blinking his eyes as he made his way through the restaurant and neighboring businesses at Beachcliff Market Square, chasing away the evil spirits of the past year and ushering in a peaceful and profitable Year of the Horse.
For over 30 years and three generations, the Kwan Family has been giving life to the mystical Lion, the star of a traditional dance performed at various functions throughout the year, but which is most familiar during the celebration of the Chinese New Year. According to tradition, all houses should be cleaned four days before the New Year, this year on Jan. 31, and all useless old things thrown away. This is know as “throwing the old age away.” Similar to Christmas and Thanksgiving, this is the time for Chinese families to gather and feast on traditional foods.
As the Lion wove its way through Pearl of the Orient, diners slipped red envelopes containing cash into his mouth, which is said to bring good luck. Kwan family members, attired in red shirts and sparkling gold and white pants, like the Lion’s legs, took turns operating the costume, using movements rooted in martial arts. The next generation was even spotlighted as a Lion “cub,” operated by young family members, preceded the full-sized creature.
The highlight of the dance came when the Lion climbed up on red benches and “ate” a cabbage and orange hanging from the rafters of the restaurant. Tradition says that feeding the Lion the greenery will also bring good luck, and he will then “peel” the orange, spitting out the peels, the number of which is considered lucky.
As the Lion took his bows, the Kwan family prepared for their next appearance at Cleveland’s Asian Town Center, part of a packed schedule from the end of January to March.