Professional dancers in bright lion costumes paraded down Whitney Avenue on Saturday morning, maneuvering through a crowd of over 500 people.
This parade initiated the third annual Lunarfest celebration of the Chinese New Year, which took place on Friday Jan. 31. The event was a collaboration between Yale and the Elm City — the Yale-China Association, the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale and the New Haven Museum all helped plan the festival.
“The city of New Haven has welcomed Chinese people, Chinese language and Chinese culture for the past 150 years, even when many other parts of the country were discriminating against Chinese people,” said Executive Director of the Yale-China Association Nancy Yao Maasbach. “We thought this would be a tremendous and fun way to offer something back to the city that has been our home for so many years.”
At 10 a.m., members of the New Haven Community lined Whitney Avenue between Grove and Trumbull streets as performers from the Wan Chi Ming Hung Gar Institute based in New York began to dance to a rhythmic drumbeat.
The daylong event also featured local performance groups, including Yale Wushu as well as dancers from New Haven’s Educational Center for the Arts and the Southern Connecticut Chinese School.
Following the morning performances on Whitney Avenue, the festivities continued indoors with workshops and demonstrations at the New Haven Museum, Luce Hall and the Yale-China Association. Children could learn about Chinese art and culture through workshops in Chinese traditions such as calligraphy, painting and ribbon dancing.
One day before the event, 1000 people had registered for Lunarfest online, forecasting a higher turn out than last year’s festival, which drew approximately 200 people, Maasbach said. She added that there were 3 feet of snow on the ground last year, which probably deterred many residents from leaving their homes and attending the festival.
Among the roughly 700 members of the New Haven community who came to this year’s event was Mayor Toni Harp ARC ’78, who offered a brief welcome before the morning performances. She said she decided to accept Yale-China’s invitation to the event in order to recognize the Asian community’s impact on the city.
In addition to organizing Lunarfest, the Yale-China Association has worked within the New Haven community through the Yale-China Teaching Fellowship, a new program that places alumni from Chinese Universities to teach in New Haven public schools. The program started in 2013, with two Chinese teaching fellows working at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School and Metropolitan Business Academy. These two teachers — Haihui Deng and Chuan Long — helped lead the parade on Saturday.
Deng and Long carried a “Happy New Year” banner, leading the lion dance troupe down Whitney Avenue. For both Deng and Long, this was the first year they celebrated Chinese New Year away from their home country.
“It was so authentic,” Deng said after the dance performances. “[Lunarfest] makes me feel like I’m back in China.”
Two other Chinese natives who were interviewed echoed this sentiment, noting that they had never seen such vibrant Chinese New Year’s festivities outside of China.
Support for Lunarfest was provided by a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.