Nor the kitsch. The almost inescapable trundling out of Macy Parade like floats reincarnated as plastic reminders of China’s stature as a trading nation. Junks and sails, and rudder wheels connected to nothing.
Nor, finally, the inevitable tuxedo clad MC and spiffily dressed consort, giving microphoned voice to the inevitable pleasure of the occasion. If last year was better than the year before, wait’ll this new year.
… and yet, they were all singing of old and remembered, the true meaning of course of Auld Lang Syne. This was not a themesong in the CCTV event (Lunar). And so doing before the Art Deco splendor of the old HSBC Palazzo. Seen now is museumic terms: a unique array of global (!!!) architectural styles from the Renaissance on. Meaning neo-Venice + Art Deco. The Sino-mansion old and new, the Teahouse and the Tiananmen – resonant xieshan stacked eaves and dougong were there but only as one among many in the parade….
No, what made this (un-televised?) event of greatest novelty to me was the borrowing of the visual and ultimately aural dimension of the religious procession as it survives from the European pilgrimage rites of Lourdes or Chartres, or just about anywhere that miracles had happened and/or were sure to happen again, or the world of the noumenal might be felt as drawing close. Of course this is a risky interpretation, right up there with the generalizing about Rock stars being proxy Christs. And for sure no one, least of all this writer, can have seen all else coming before, and so with confidence lay absolute claim that this staging is something new.
There are however two good reasons for sensing pilgrimage in the air.
The first is simply a matter of indirect quote. The parade of massed candles is a constant in the (mainly French) vocabulary of annual cathedral festival(s), the best known of which is of course the Lourdes procession des flambeaux. Which we should here revisit just to see how closely the Euro-medieval and present day secular nighttime mass ceremony resemble each other. The fact of the matter is that the old is pipelined into the new via the tourism-generated son et lumiere show, recrudescent in the 1950s in the Loire valley. Exactly as we see here, that stage event genre uses the simultaneous play of light and pumped in (up) sound to create awe. Often indeed the music is directly drawn from church song, as in the Chartres case. Is it just accidental that the backsound music drifts here in and out of something like monastic chant, or at least the Damien “Dies Irae”? So willi nilli the creators of this Spectacle are clerics: their magic is woven in or upon outdoor crowds who eschew the stay-at-home habit of the CCTV New Year’s Show.
The second reason for my guess is that “monastic” China, of ecletic derivation, every so here and there keeps up a kind of tradition of a kind of All Souls night time parade. Again simple attribution is too bold, since we have no reason to suspect that tourists have absorbed these ceremonies into their instinctive vocabulary as devotees of museum-preserved versions of folk religion. But here again a larger aesthetic interest in the Neo-Primitive has been afoot since at least the start of the new century. Check the blogsites: there are by now hundreds that pore over (usually local) folk-ceremony.