Throwing a party fit for a dragon

Lunar New Year prompts special gatherings at Central, other village venues

The realm of the Red Devils heralded the Year of the Dragon over the weekend.

Hinsdale Central High School was the site of traditional Lunar New Year activities, food and performances on Sunday evening to mark the spring festival, the biggest and most important holiday for Chinese communities around the world.

Cheerful exchanges over a mah johng game could be heard from one area outside the auditorium, while tea ceremony practitioners demonstrated their skills in another.

Children delighted in a chance to win money - customarily gifted in red envelopes - by scooping as many envelopes into a basket as possible in a matter of seconds while blindfolded.

Cheryl Cai of Hinsdale invited all to try their luck, especially given this year's sign.

"Dragon is considered one of the most powerful of the 12 zodiac animals," Cai said. "The year is supposed to bring everyone luck and good fortune."

The festivities were staged as part of the Multicultural Spring Festival Celebration, a three-installment series in the village to mark the special occasion and give community residents a unique ethnic experience. Feb. 10 was the beginning of the new lunar year, also called the Spring Festival, a two-week celebration when loved ones gather together for an extended fete of fireworks, culinary treats and parades.

Families in Central's lobby had their pictures taken with a dragon's head, like those used in the traditional new year's dance. The aroma of traditional foods like eggrolls, dumplings and noodles had visitors ascending the stairs to the auditorium's upper level to fill up on the tasty dishes.

Central junior Ben Yan has been instrumental in organizing the celebration series, which kicked off with a similar lunar new year party at the Hinsdale Public Library Feb. 10. Yan said the idea was actually the brainchild of his Chinese teacher and Hinsdale resident Lucy Zhou after the success of a Mid-Autumn Festival at the library last fall.

"I'm really happy because it was a lot of work, especially coordinating with everyone," Yan said of the robust turnout on Sunday. "In the end we pulled it together, and I'd say this is pretty bang-up job for the first time."

"I really wanted to bring it to the forefront with this event, not only to celebrate the culture of the people in the community, but the chance for them to bring their culture to others who might not be as familiar with big holidays like Lunar New Year," said faculty sponsor Mark Meyer, chair of Central's social studies department. "It's a chance for them to share one of the largest celebrations of their culture with the rest of their community."

The action soon shifted to the auditorium for the talent show. Yan introduced classmates and fellow event organizers Lucas Cai, Calvin Cao and Alex Zhang and thanked people for attending.

"I hope today was either an enlightening or a nostalgic experience for you," he remarked.

Representing the village, Hinsdale Trustee Alexis Braden extended her gratitude to the audience and shared childhood recollections of annual Lunar New Year parties in her hometown of Stockton, Calif.

"We'd learn how to greet our peers with 'Gong hei fat choy' ('Wishing you happiness and prosperity')," Braden related, "and watched our Asian-American classmates participate in dragon dances on our school blacktop."

DuPage County Board District 2 Rep. Yeena Yoo, whose district includes northern Hinsdale, also expressed appreciation for growing awareness of the holiday.

"It is a testament to diversity of our county that Lunar New Year is being celebrated more and more widely," she said.

Talent show acts included everything from group and solo dances, vocal performances, a lesson in dumpling making and even a Chinese calligraphy demonstration.

"Structure, balance and harmony - that's what's important in Chinese culture," calligrapher Charles Xu said.

The Multicultural Spring Festival Celebration series continues with the final event from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, at Hinsdale Covenant Church 412 S. Garfield St.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean