Chinese New Year welcomes the Dragon

by Fabiana Torreao

Wearing large, round hats covering their faces and long, black dresses with colorful trim, a group of Thai dancers performed slow and perfectly synchronized choreography.
Set against the backdrop of the traditional Thai belief that women are daughters of the moon, the dancers’ serene movements and calm music were part of the Chinese New Year celebration Sunday night organized by the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars. More than 600 people gathered at the St. Paul Student Center to usher in the Year of the Dragon.
“It’s great to have this interaction between the Chinese communities (nonuniversity and university),” said Lin Yi, one of the performers and a University graduate student. She was the only University student of the seven dancers.
The University has an estimated 1,200 Chinese students and scholars, the largest in the nation.
A 30-foot, multicolored dragon, carried by seven people, raced across the room onto the stage and opened the celebration for a cheerful audience.
According to the Chinese calendar, the Year of the Dragon started Saturday. Always determined to succeed, the dragon is the guardian of wealth and power in Chinese culture. The dragon coincided with the millennium, to the delight of the event organizers.
In Chinese culture, the Year of the Dragon is believed to be a good year to get married, have children or start a new business.
The Chinese New Year celebration, also known as the Spring Festival, represents the earth’s rebirth. The traditions focus on a fresh start, both to dispel traces of bad luck and to wish for happiness, wealth and longevity.
The Chinese lunar calendar has a cycle of 12 years, each represented by a different animal, including a tiger, a monkey and rat. Last year was the Year of the Rabbit.
The ritualistic use of the color red during this time wards off evil spirits. Red balloons and signs reading “The Easterns and the Westerns get together to receive good luck” decorated the ballroom.
“This is a rare and good opportunity to watch a traditional Chinese program,” said Feng Fang, president of FACSS and University graduate student.
“Gong Shee Gong Shee,” which means Happy New Year in Chinese, was repeated by Michelle Yan, a Chinese woman who has lived in the United States for 12 years. Yan said traditionally in China, the new year is celebrated among families.
During the celebration, organizers presented two people with the Orville R. Hobbs Award, named after a community member who helped new Chinese students and scholars at the University.
The Minnesota Chinese Cultural Services also celebrated the new year with a dinner and entertainment program Saturday night, held at the St. Paul Student Center as well.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts will host a Year of the Dragon celebration Feb. 13 with an exhibition of Chinese art and an interactive opportunity for participants to design their own dragon robes. This event is organized by FACSS and the China Center.

Fabiana Torreao covers St. Paul and welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3237.