Red lanterns glowed and lions paraded down Whitney Avenue on Saturday as Elm City residents attending Lunarfest celebrated the Year of the Dog and learned about Chinese culture.
New Haven’s annual ceremony for the Lunar New Year offered various arts and cultural programs for Yale students and city residents. The event was sponsored by the Council on East Asian Studies, the New Haven Museum and the Yale-China Association, among other organizations. For its theme, “People-to-People,” this year’s festival focused on encouraging cross-cultural dialogue. The festival kicked off at 10 a.m. with a lion-dance parade on Whitney Avenue and featured Chinese culture workshops, talks and museum exhibitions until 5 p.m.
The day’s events were free to the public, allowing the entire New Haven community to celebrate the Year of the Dog, which began last Friday.
“This year’s theme, ‘People-to-People,’ perfectly explains our mission: building bridges between cultures, specifically Chinese and American cultures,” Reeder said. “We are bringing together people with various backgrounds and helping them relate based on the fundamental human experience. We think food, music, dance, storytelling and arts play an important role in connecting people.”
At the opening parade, Yale mascot Handsome Dan appeared to mark the beginning of the Year of the Dog. Performances ranged from dances by the Wan Chi Ming Hung Gar Institute Lion Dance Troupe and Southern Connecticut Chinese School dance class to songs by the Connecticut Yankee Chorus and a demonstration by the Wu Dang Kungfu Academy.
Both Mayor Toni Harp and David Youtz, the executive director of the Yale-China Association, gave speeches, thanking contributors to the event and discussing the importance of the Lunar New Year in New Haven.
Harp emphasized the importance of cultural inclusion and expressed excitement for an Elm City delegation’s upcoming trip to visit Changsha, China — New Haven’s eighth sister city — this April to discuss the potential for greater cultural integration. Youtz said the delegation wants to bring “new arts relationships, education relationships and business relationships” back to New Haven.
“We are so proud that we are an international city and that we respect and understand everyone,” Harp said. “We know that is what makes our community so special.”
To celebrate the Year of the Dog, the event featured information tables for Paws ’N Effect and Edgewood Dog Park, as well as a presentation on dog psychology from the Canine Cognition Center.
According to Reeder, incorporating dog-related presentations and activities into the event helped draw a crowd of dog lovers who may not have otherwise attended the event. Still, Reeder told the News that the Yale-China Association made sure that the event didn’t focus too much on dogs.
“We were careful to make sure that the dogs didn’t overwhelm the celebration of Chinese culture,” Reeder said. “The majority of the offerings were not about dogs, and our intention was simply to help people connect through something that’s so relatable across cultures. I’m sure it added a fun element — a splash of color — to the day’s workshops, too.”
Elise Antel, program coordinator at the Council of East Asian Studies and an organizer of the event, said that a tai chi class with Master Xing Qi-Lin and a Chinese calligraphy workshop drew the most interest.
“There is a big community of Chinese students and faculty at Yale, and it’s important that they carry on the culture with the help of the university,” Barbara Chan, a workshop instructor, said. “With these workshops, you have a lot of students and New Haven residents who can celebrate the culture together.”
Students, volunteers and community members interviewed at the event said they enjoyed the program and learned a lot about Chinese culture.
Ziyue Gao GRD ’19, who volunteered at the parade, said that he appreciated the opportunity to celebrate the holiday even when he was away from his family.
“This is my first time in the United States, so I have Lunar New Year without my family for the first time,” Gao said. “It’s kind of special because I am enjoying the time here, and people here are enjoying the time here. You see, I am giving out the red envelope to the people, and I see the smile on their face, and I also enjoy.”
Carlos Garcia, a New Haven resident who has attended Lunarfest for a few years, said that this year’s event was particularly well-organized and publicized. The live performances, tai chi class and calligraphy class provided a unique opportunity to learn about a culture with which he was unfamiliar.
While he found Lunarfest fun and informative, Richard Park ’21 emphasized that the Lunar New year is not exclusively Chinese — other South Asian and East Asian countries celebrate the holiday as well.
“The events in Lunarfest were mostly associated with Chinese culture, but it’s important to remember that Lunar New Year is celebrated in many different nations in East and South Asia, including South Korea and Vietnam,” Park said.
This year’s celebration was the seventh annual Lunarfest.
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