Chasing the dragon

January and February are never easy months to get through. The winter break is over, summer break seems light-years away, and no matter where in Canada you live, the weather is less than stellar. But there has always been one holiday that has kept me going through this dreary season: Chinese New Year.

Ever since I can remember, my entire family would go down to Main and Pender in Vancouver and stand bundled up among milling crowds to watch what was, for me, one of the greatest shows on earth. I would elbow my way to the front of the crowd and crouch on the curb, or, when I was very small, cajole my parents into putting me on their shoulders so I could get a better view. No matter how many times I witnessed this monumental event, I never failed to be awed by the spectacle. We were passed by brightly costumed dancers with ribbons and parasols; marching bands of every stripe; community clubs and organizations marching with colourful, multifarious banners. Firecrackers were set off, their intimidating volume and exotic, acrid smell as fascinating as they were frightening. But the best part of this thrilling parade was always, always the dragon dance. I would sit with bated breath, watching the dancers and musicians go by, waiting for that moment when the dragon would come snaking down the street. A dancer in a papier-mâché mask with chubby, red cheeks pranced mischievously before the brilliantly plumed beast. The dragon tossed its enormous head, adorned with tassels and bells, with huge googly eyes and a gaping mouth. To the beat of drums it leapt high in the air and shivered its sides in mock fury. I had never seen a more terrifying and wondrous creature.

Once I was old enough to realize that the dragon’s four feet were wearing sneakers, I knew I had found my true calling: I would be a dragon dancer. I would perform and bring the magic of this moment to life. Naturally, once I expressed this desire to my more realistic—and cynical—friends, they were quick to point out the major flaw in my reasoning. I was not Chinese, and Jewish white girls tend not to participate in a dragon dance on Chinese New Year. I was crushed. Years later, I have gained enough realism and cynicism myself to know that, even if I were allowed to do the dance—and who knows? maybe I would be-I am far too much of a klutz to even begin. That doesn’t detract from the joy I get from watching it, though. The dragon dance, for me, embodies Canada’s multiculturalism in a way that nothing else can. Looking back, the people crowding those sidewalks, whose knees I elbowed past to get a good view, were from all over the world. Yet we all came to watch this parade—to see the bright colours, to hear the drums and the music, to smell the enticing aroma of dim sum wafting out of restaurants down the street. And to watch the majestic dragon dance.

Next Sunday, Jan. 29, is this year’s Chinese New Year. I don’t know if Kingston has a parade, or how that will be celebrated. But I know that in my mind’s eye I will hear the drums, and see the dragon toss its head.

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