Dating back over a thousand years in China, legend has it that the Lion was the ninth son of the dragon and served as the King's most fearless guard. Lions are a mascot symbolic of courage and power – in Chinese culture they are usually seen in front of royal palaces, offices and residences all over the world. An example of this homage can be seen at the Marco Polo Bridge in China where 485 Lions are lined up symbolic of China’s entry into the Second World War.
Symbolic sequences in the Lion dance include: waking, sniffing, bowing, playing, searching, fighting, eating, licking, lifting and sleeping.
The number three is significant in the Lion dance especially for a reason. Three shoots, three kicks, three bows and the eating ritual is traditionally performed in sets of three (Once to the left, right and then the middle in order to acknowledge all sides).
In a traditional performance, the first sequence the Lion performs is to bow three times in a symbol of respect and honor. In Chinese culture, three bows are a sign of the deepest reverence for someone, or something.
The Lion may then express a number of different emotions: curiosity, happiness, hunger, fear, respect and anger. After showing respect to the object being blessed, the Lion begins to dance. During this sequence - you may see the Lion striking kung fu poses, rolling on the ground, playing with the clown, and performing lifts. When the Lion is done playing, he gets hungry and searches for food. This represents the spiritual battle - the Lion must now be fed in order to be satisfied and to achieve its goal.
The eating ritual consists of three symbolic items that satisfy the Lions hunger:
Oranges - symbolizes longevity and health with its spherical shape
Lettuce - symbolizes wealth and luck
Red Envelope – symbolizes good fortune
The Lion eats the oranges first and spits it back out - its good luck for whoever is able to catch an orange with their hands. Lettuce is eaten next and splattered everywhere, symbolic of spreading wealth to all who are witnessing the ritual. The final piece for the Lion to eat is the red envelope. Good fortune is obtained by the host when the Lion consumes a red envelope.