2023 welcomes the Year of the Rabbit – a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity – in the 12-year Chinese Zodiac Cycle. Celebrations this year ran from 22 January until 5 February. The start date of the 'Lunar New Year' is dependent on the cycles of the moon, hence the name. The celebrations always commence with the arrival of the New Moon, usually between 21-51 days after the Gregorian New Year date of 1st January.
In recent history, those born in the years 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999 or 2011 are Rabbits. Additionally, each animal on the Chinese Zodiac is represented by five elements – Fire, Water, Wood, Metal or Earth – which follow a once-every-60-year cycle. 2023's element is Water, making this the year of the Water Rabbit. In Chinese mythology, the Rabbit was said to live with the Goddess 'Chang'e' on the Moon and in 2013, China deployed its first lunar rover named 'Jade Rabbit' in homage to this uniquely celestial Zodiac symbol. People born in the Year of the Rabbit are believed to be vigilant, witty, quick-minded and ingenious. Some famous Rabbits include Albert Einstein, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.
All Lunar New Year celebrations typically begin and end with the traditional Lion Dance displays. The Lion Dances usually occur in and around businesses with the highly decorated creatures performing ritualistic dances coupled with rhythmic drumming and fireworks to 'ward off evil spirits' and 'bring good fortune and prosperity'. The Lions are often performed by teams of two or three highly disciplined individuals working in unison with very limited visibility. The performers instead rely on their hearing as they follow the drummer's cues to ensure they remain perfectly choreographed.
Businesses who wish to invite the Lions to perform their ritual on New Years will hang a lettuce at their entrance along with a red envelope containing money for the performers. Lettuce is always used, as the word for this vegetable in Chinese ('cài'), strongly resembles the word for 'fortune' (cái). If two Lions approach a business, they must battle for the red envelope. This is where the performers get to demonstrate their martial arts skills and must form a human pyramid within the costume, while maintaining balance and rhythm. The winner is typically the Lion Troupe who achieve the highest reach and the most elaborate dance. The Lion will then 'consume' the lettuce and 'spit out' the shredded leaves, deploying the 'good luck'.
In Glenferrie Road, Tao Tao House Chinese restaurant owner Eric explained that the business owner pays for the privilege of having a visit by the Lion Troupe to ensure a better, financially secure future in business. Eric mentioned that, “They are very popular with the customers. They call up and ask ‘when is the Lion coming?’ and so I have to get them to come in at least two nights and stay for a couple of hours so everyone gets a chance to see them.” Exact origins of the Lion Dance are murky, but this tradition dates back to antiquity and has probable Persian influence. Lions have not been a native species in China for over 350,000 years, however, it is commonly thought that these creatures' designs encompass artistic impressions of dragons, making them a type of chimera.