I heard the lion coming ten minutes before it arrived. Cymbals crashing, drum pounding, wood blocks clacking, the lion dance sauntered along the beach before the procession veered onto the path past the wetland toward Wang Tong. The musicians took a break and the lion decapitated himself to dry off some sweat, until they entered the village. Then it was back to work for the lion to herald in the year of its fellow cat.
The lion dance is part of the annual Chinese New Year tradition, put on by the neighborhood youth association. I suspect it's just a lovely cover name for the local triad gang. So whether your household offers lucky lai see money to the lion to honor tradition, or to ensure that your property isn't vandalized, either way it's about enhancing your luck. And at least they make a pleasing entertainment out of it.
When they stop at each household the lion does a little dance in front of the door before devouring a bouquet of lettuce, with lucky red envelopes inside, then of course spits out the lettuce afterward (lions aren't vegetarians). Some places had the lettuce hanging outside their front door and the lion had to reach up to bite it down, but in two homes the lion was invited inside the living room to collect his meal in front of the family altar.
This year I noticed that pure Chinese households received a bonus: firecrackers. Long strings of them, some lasting ten seconds or more, sending thick clouds of smoke through the air and leaving the ground littered with red blossoms (see the photo below).
Non-Chinese didn't receive the benefit of explosives. Don't we need to frighten away demons too? Are they implying that foreigners aren't vulnerable to demon attack? Or, wait a minute...maybe they're implying that gwailos (and the Chinese traitors who marry them) are the devils that need chasing away.
Next year I'm insisting on firecrackers.