Courtesy of Yale-China

Celebrating the Year of the Tiger, this year’s Lunarfest seeks to heal fractures within the city community amidst the coronavirus’ continued spread. 

The festival, which began on Feb. 12 and will run until Feb. 21, is organized by Yale-China and funded by the City of New Haven and the Racial Equity and Creative Healing, or REACH, grant. Lunarfest is one of 17 recipients of the REACH grant, which seeks to sponsor artistic groups which promote community healing and racial justice. 

“Lunarfest brings together a rare intersection of New Haven society, across Yale and throughout greater New Haven to celebrate and to educate,” said Annie Lin, director of the Arts programs at Yale-China. 

Due to COVID-19 concerns, many events traditionally held in-person, such as the annual lion and dragon dance parade, were omitted from the program. Traditionally, Lunarfest features the lion dance troupe from the Wan Chi Ming Hung Gar Institute and dragons made by schools and local organizations in a parade down Whitney Avenue. 

However, Lunarfest has not faltered in following through with its central goal of uniting the New Haven community through a celebration of Lunar New Year. Focusing on rebounding from the pandemic, Lunarfest transcended restrictions on in-person gatherings through a collection of virtual events and a mural project. 

A main component of this year’s celebrations is the addition of a Lunarfest community mural, which is currently on display until the end of February. Described by Yale-China as a way to “bring people together through art,” the mural is available for the public’s viewing at 77 Audubon Ave. 

“We are pleased to help bring about greater understanding and celebration of the Spring Festival holiday here in New Haven through art,” President of Yale-China John Frisbie said. 

Each square of the community mural was designed by a different member of the New Haven community but united by its primary colors of red and gold. These two colors were chosen for their association with luck and happiness within the Lunar New Year tradition. 

Access to activities for Lunarfest 2022 is centered around a readily accessible website which features a list of events, an online space to leave New Year greetings and a virtual mural viewing area. 

This inclusion of online programs featured movie screenings, virtual Tai Chi classes, recorded Chinese opera lectures and a collection of virtual greetings. All available on the Yale-China website, these virtual presences seek to foster a sense of community from afar. 

One virtual aspect is entitled “Stories from Home,” an booklet which compiles stories of heritage, culture and art to unite those who are not able to celebrate the special holiday with family. 

“We have overseas immigrants, first and second generation residents of Asian heritage and families that have been in the area for generations,” Lin said. “To bridge so many lived experiences is a challenge, so we are focusing on relationship-building with virtual activities in Lunarfest this year.” 

Traditionally, Lunar New Year is a time when millions of people travel home, and it is marked by an emphasis on reuniting with family. 

“I live pretty close, in Brooklyn, so I went home for Lunar New Year. It was really nice to spend it reconnecting with my family members,” Pilar Bylinsky ’25 said. 

While some people were able to return home, many were unable to due to travel and social distancing restrictions. Reconciling this disparity in those who could travel home and those who could not became the main goal of this year’s Lunarfest. 

“This reality has weighed very heavily on me,” Lin said. “But to have a community here in New Haven that invests in cultural equity makes me feel valued and empowered to work across traditional barriers to make New Haven home for the globalized and interconnected community that resides here.”

Lunarfest started 11 years ago as a partnership between Yale-China, the New Haven Museum and the Yale Council on East Asian Studies.

Alessia Degraeve covered student culture. She is an English major in the Saybrook College class of 2025.