Lunarfest 2017, a celebration of the Chinese Year of the Rooster, kicked off this Saturday with a traditional lion dance parade down Whitney Avenue.
In its sixth annual iteration, the event — jointly run by the Yale-China Association, New Haven Museum and the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University — featured a full day of family-friendly activities from traditional Chinese music concerts to a festival foods exhibit. The festivities began at 10 a.m. with a traditional lion dance featuring roughly a dozen performers and continued on through the evening.
“The first year it was only a parade,” said Yale-China Association Executive Director David Youtz. “This year, we tried to expand the educational part of the event.”
The parade, which drew several hundred people despite the chilly weather, featured the Wan Chi Ming Hung Gar Dance Institute and Lion Dance Team out of New York City. Its members, ranging from seasoned dance troupe veterans to young children, paraded through the streets in colorful dragon costumes as spectators dropped red envelopes into the dragons’ large mouths. The dragons, blinking wildly in appreciation, gleefully consumed the little red envelopes, some of which contained small bills.
Among the other performers were students of Wu Dang Kungfu Academy in Orange, the Connecticut Yankee Chorus and C-Sharp, Yale’s only Chinese a capella group, all of whom gave spirited performances at the intersection of Whitney and Audubon.
After the performances, the crowd parted, making way for two dragons who ran into Great Wall Restaurant. After weaving through the restaurant, the dragons emerged minutes later with a large cabbage following close behind. One of the dragons then scaled a 20-foot pole, caught the cabbage in its mouth and ripped it up, tossing the remains into the enthusiastic crowd below.
Though Lunarfest is a celebration of the Chinese New Year, attendees came from all cultural backgrounds.
“I see this as an opportunity to bring together the multicultural community that is New Haven,” said Yale-China Association Program Officer Annie Lin ’09. “We’re not just celebrating Chinese New Year, we’re celebrating community.”
After a short lunch break, Lunarfest continued with events in three distinct sites.
The Yale-China Association, the smallest of the venues, hosted a make-your-own Chinese paper marbling station run by a few volunteers who gave directions in both Chinese and English. The technique involved poking paint-coated toothpicks into large bowls of water and covering the inky film with a piece of sticky paper in order to produce a marble-like design. Though most participants were children, parents also joined in the fun. Kids were able to take their colorful marbled creations home.
Luce Hall, which hosts social science lectures during the week, featured arts and crafts, poetry readings and short lectures about Chinese culture for Lunarfest. An hourlong performance of a Kunqu Opera — one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera — filled every seat in the auditorium. The short Q&A after the show was delivered in Chinese and translated for those who did not understand. The non-Chinese-speaking members of the crowd waited a few seconds for some of the jokes to be translated before joining in the laughter of the rest of the audience. Following the opera, senior lector Su Wei performed a poetry reading in two languages: Mandarin and Cantonese. He was joined by Sarah Bruley ’17, a former city editor for the News, who read the poems in English.
At the New Haven Museum, dozens of adults participated in a tai chi instructional class led by instructor Jon Michael Mroz. As participants tried out some of the basics of the internal martial art, toddlers ran across the room, occasionally interrupting someone’s “energy ball.” Downstairs, kids made paper lanterns and practiced calligraphy with volunteers.
Lunarfest’s success was dependent on volunteers like Yan Chen, a religious-studies researcher visiting from China. After spending months offering to teach free Chinese language classes at the Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven Public Library and Gateway Community College and having her offers refused, she finally got her chance at Lunarfest.
“I told them I want to be [a] volunteer,” she said, wielding a stack of papers covered in Chinese phrases.
Chen, instructing with zeal, managed to teach a group of teenagers a few simple expressions. She called education a “light in darkness” and said she plans to return to China to help women in poor rural communities after her visa expires next April.
Some of the most famous people in the world born in the Year of the Rooster include Bob Marley, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.