Jennifer Lu

Hundreds of New Haven residents attended a parade of colorful puppet lions early Saturday morning, as the city kicked off its celebration of Lunarfest.

Lunarfest, an annual ceremony for the Lunar New Year sponsored by Yale’s Council on East Asian Studies, the New Haven Museum and the Yale-China Association, began at 10 a.m. with a traditional lion dance — a Chinese dance which involves mimicking the movements of the animal — outside Bruegger’s Bagels on Whitney Avenue and Grove Street. Festivities continued until 5 p.m., with Chinese culture workshops, demonstrations and talks hosted in the official buildings of the event’s three sponsor organizations. Lunarfest marks the start of the Chinese New Year, one of the most important festivals in Chinese culture.

The day’s events were free-of-charge and open to the public, allowing the entire community of New Haven to ring in the Year of the Monkey, which begins Monday.

“It is a community event, so New Haven residents and Yale can learn about Chinese culture and specifically the culture of Lunar New Year,” Yale-China Senior Health Program Officer Lucy Yang SPH ’05 said.

The Yale-China Association hired performers from New York’s Wan Chi Ming Hung Gar Institute — a dance troupe that specializes in traditional Chinese dances — to star in New Haven’s lion dance. According to Ellie Woo, who has been with the institute for several years, many members of the team have been performing since they were very young.

Spectators, including members of the New Haven and Yale Chinese communities as well as families with children adopted from China, were led up the street by two puppet “lions” — each held up by two performers — and drum, gong and cymbal players.

At the front of the parade walked Richard Sosa GRD ’12, program director of the Council on East Asian Studies, Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky, executive director of the New Haven Museum, and Yale-China Executive Director David Youtz.

The parade stopped at Audubon Street for performances by the Wudang Kung Fu Academy, the Educational Center for the Arts Repertory Dance Company, the Connecticut Yankee Chorus and the Southern Connecticut Chinese School.

Mayor Toni Harp, who was also present, congratulated the Yale-China Association for reaching its 115th birthday.

Youtz said the celebration is not the only event the Yale-China Association is planning to ring in the Lunar New Year.

“We also have a delegation of students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong,” he said. “They come here during their Lunar New Year break.”

The Yale University-New Asia College Exchange is a program that matches eight students from Yale with eight New Asia College students for a six-month academic and cultural exchange. The students from New Asia College, a constituent college of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, spend two weeks of their Lunar New Year break — which includes this week — in New Haven. Subsequently, Youtz said, the Yale students will spend their spring break in Shatin, Hong Kong. The program is now in its 23rd year.

During the finale of the lion dance, which began at around 11:15 a.m., the lions proceeded to enter the Great Wall Restaurant as well as the Hong Kong Market to “eat the cabbage” off of the walls — a fun tradition of the Lunarfest celebrations, Yang said.

“We don’t get the holiday off for Chinese New Year, but this event offers a semblance of celebration,” Yang said.

The three organizations have now celebrated their fifth Lunarfest.