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A Lion Dance for Lunar New Year

February 8, 2024—With a trio of musicians playing cymbals, gongs, and a lion drum, a costumed dancer waved a fan and awoke a lion. So began the annual all-school Lunar New Year assembly hosted by Winsor’s AsIAm (Asian in America) affinity group, this year celebrating the year of the dragon. 

The first new moon of the lunar calendar marks the beginning of Lunar New Year, which in 2024 lands on Saturday, February 10. After dancing on stage, the lion and its companion circled the ground floor of the David E. and Stacey L. Goel Theater, expertly maneuvering stairs to greet the assembled audience of students, faculty, and staff. A tradition meant to cast away bad energy, a lion dance also welcomes prosperity, health, and good luck.

Back on stage, a fabric scroll unfurled printed with the words “Good luck, wealth, fortune, and best wishes.” The dancers under the lion costume surreptitiously threw oranges out of the lion’s mouth and into the audience. Associate Head of School Kate Caspar joined the troupe from Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy on stage and was beckoned forward to pull a small stuffed animal dragon out of the lion’s mouth, followed by a head of lettuce—both blessings she received on behalf of the school.

AsIAm Upper School club heads introduced Mai Du, one of the performers from Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy. When the audience was invited to ask questions, one student was curious about training. “A lot of lion dance skills come from kung fu training,” explained Du. It takes two dancers—one managing the head and one managing the tail—to make the lion come alive. “When they go into the lion, the spirit and movement come out so that they are together as one,” explained Du. After developing the necessary leg and arm strength, it often takes another year or two of practicing together for the two dancers to truly embody the lion. 

Lower School AsIAm gave a presentation on Lunar New Year games and traditions. They highlighted the monster Nian who is frightened away by the color red and loud noises, which is said to be one of the reasons Lunar New Year is celebrated with bright red decorations and firecrackers. Students also explained the gift-giving tradition of money-filled red envelopes for good luck in the new year. Later in the week, faculty and staff discovered a special treat in their mailboxes—red envelopes filled with gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins, which students and parents assembled and delivered with help from Lower School club advisor Baoying Qiu. The presentation also featured interactive games like the nature-inspired board game Yutnori and the stone-throwing game Gonggi. Two student performances—a Chinese fan dance by Class I student Olivia Ma ’31 and a Chinese yoyo demonstration by Class IV student Hailey Duan ‘28—brought the celebrations to life. 

A collaboration between Upper School AsIAm and the Asian American History Club (AAHC), students shot and edited a 13-minute video, which played for the assembled audience called “Little BIG Stories.” Encompassing immigration stories, a cultural spotlight on the Matthew Wong Museum of Fine Arts exhibit and Nan Xiang Express Soup Dumplings in Chinatown, and how students like to celebrate Lunar New Year, the video explores how it is the small things that make the biggest impact. For the immigration stories, students interviewed family members about their shared family histories. Stories spanned the centuries with students tracing their lineage as far back as the 1850s and 1920s, with grandparents and great-grandparents building railroads and restaurants. Themes of family, togetherness, and education unified the collective narrative and were reinforced in the way students like to celebrate Lunar New Year—by making food (such as dumplings and tteokguk) with family, watching the Lunar New Year gala, and bowing to grandparents—and their favorite thing about about being Asian—the sense of community found at festivals, playing games with family, as well as eating the best food and snacks. Sophomore Sophia Wang ’26 even created a muckbang video to demonstrate how to get a satisfying crunch on a skewer of fruit. 

Once the assembly let out, festivities continued during lunch. Chef Heather’s Lunar New Year-inspired menu featured fish steamed with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and scallion, pork and vegetarian dumplings, longevity noodles, spring rolls, and Chinese broccoli salad. During lunchtime, parents and guardians hosted activities in the Valeria Knapp Trustees Room where students, faculty, and staff tried their hand at Chinese calligraphy on magic water mats and participated in crafts like folding origami, making a paper lantern, and creating a red envelope. 

A big thank you to AsIAm Lower School club advisor Baoying Qiu and AsIAm Upper School club advisor Ariel Tu, as well as AsIAm parents and guardians, who worked with students to put together such an incredible celebration for the Winsor community.

A portion of the lion dance was filmed and shared with Boston's ABC News affiliate WBZ. Watch a clip on cbsnews.com.

Watch a recording of the entire assembly.