Chinese New Year – a quick lesson!

Our story is set during Chinese New Year. It is a celebration that starts on the first new moon of the first month of the year. It includes family celebrations, prayer to the ancestors, sacrifices to the Kitchen God, and a Dragon Parade. It concludes 15 days later on the full moon with the Lantern Festival.


Light rise on a humble fishing village. The villagers are preparing for the New Year by sweeping away the bad luck and welcoming the new.  As they dance and sing, a Nightingale glides into their midst. Her “voice” is the ethereal sound of Chinese bells, which play whenever she dances. Mei, a painfully shy young woman, discovers that she can understand the Nightingale’s speech. Mei’s grandmother, Po Levonne, convinces Mei to journey to the palace to share the Nightingale’s song with the Emperor. Po reveals that the Emperor has been laboring to breath, which will make it hard for him to lead the country in song at the Lantern Festival in 15 days. Po is convinced that the beauty of the Nightingale’s song will restore the Emperor’s health.

At the palace, the Emperor is awed and his breathing soothed by the Nightingale. He unknowingly hurts the feelings of the Music Master and Imperial Choir by stating his preference for the song. Afraid that she will leave him, he has her wings tied and orders Mei to stay at the palace.

The Music Master retaliates by building The Jade Bird, a flashy mechanical device that dances the same dance over and over. After the Dragon Parade, Mei uses the distraction of the Jade Bird to free the Nightingale. She is punished by having to work in the kitchens for the rest of the New Year celebration.

Returning home a few days later, Mei tells her grandmother, Po Levonne, that ever since the Nightingale left, the Emperor has become weaker. He can barely speak or even catch his breath. Po teaches Mei to write a Fu. She explains that Daoists believe when you write your wish on a piece of paper and burn it in a fire, you are sending it to heaven. The villagers gather together, each lighting a Fu and sending their wishes to the skies.

During his final rehearsal for the Lantern Festival, the Emperor falls and can not sing anymore. He laments the choices he made that forced the Nightingale to flee. Seeing his change of heart, Mei asks the audience to call for the Nightingale by singing the Fu song. When the Nightingale reappears, the Emperor begs her forgiveness and pledges freedom for her and the people of China. Everyone rejoices and begins the Lantern Festival by singing China’s historical Jasmine Flower Song.