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Children participate in a dragon parade which takes place at the end of the New Year celebration each year. Sarah Croasdale said it is her favorite part of the event because the students have fun marching around the room waving flags and following the dragon head. Photos courtesy of Lois Crosdale
At the 2012 celebration, children had an opportunity to practice using chopsticks by trying to pick up pompoms and place them in cups. Chopsticks are held in one hand by resting the upper chopstick like a pencil and placing the other against your ring finger and the base of your thumb. You move the upper chopstick with your thumb, index, and middle fingers to pickup, not scoop, the food. You know you have mastered chopsticks when you can pick up a single grain of rice.
It has several names; the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year and the Agriculture Calendar’s New Year to name a few, but most people know it as Chinese New Year. This Sunday will mark one of the oldest and most important traditional holidays in Chinese culture. It begins on the first day of the first month of the traditional Chinese calendar and lasts 15 days ending with the Lantern Festival. Each of the days have different themes: The First Day: The opening day of the celebration is marked by fireworks and a lion or dragon dance featuring a person or group dressed in a dragon costume. It usually is performed by family members or a hired troupe. The Second Day: All married women get to visit their birth families. This also is considered the birthday of dogs; so family pets will receive special treats. The Ninth Day: This day is the celebration of the Jade Emperor of Heaven and people offer prayers and gifts of thanks. The Thirteenth Day: On this day people will eat an all vegetarian diet to cleanse their stomachs from the food they have eaten over the past two weeks. The Fifteenth Day: This is the final day of the Chinese New Year, marked by the Lantern Festival where people will light candles to guide wayward spirits home. “It’s a big holiday. Every day is different and has a different feel,” said Da Wang, a Peru real estate investor who moved to America from China when he was 12 years old. Chinese New Year gained significance in the culture through several myths and traditions. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of the planting season in spring. The calendar is considered lunisolar which means it marks the phases of the moon and the time of the solar year. It will mark the seasons and predict the constellations that appear near the full moon. The calendar year consists of 12 months, but every second or third year there will be 13 months. Wang recalled enjoying the New Year with his family in the Shandong province of China when he was younger. Businesses are closed for the holiday and everyone goes home to have a family meal. Wang’s family would make traditional Chinese food such as dumplings and watch New Year shows on the television. A traditional family reunion dinner includes dishes of pork, chicken and fish. They also may have a communal hot pot to signify the family coming together for the meal. Some families might eat specialty meats like duck, Chinese sausage, lobster and abalone, eaten only at this time of the year. In most areas, the fish dish will not be fully consumed but saved for the remaining days to signify having a surplus for the rest of the year. After dinner, families gather to watch China Central Television’s New Year’s Gala. Families wish each other “good fortune,” “happiness,” “wealth” and “longevity.” Tradition says that all grudges should be forgiven and to reconcile with your enemies by wishing them peace and happiness. Wang said his favorite tradition was getting a red bag full of money from his grandparents. This tradition, performed by the elders of the family, gives money to the younger generations as away to keep children young and pass along good luck. “It was quite a bit of money,” Wang said. “I would spend it on candy and toys.” Now, Wang is too old to receive money and must give it to the younger members of his family. Wang’s family still gathers every New Year to celebrate and eat traditional food. He also makes phone calls to his elders in China. “It’s a big part of us and our heritage.” Wang said about the day. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mauritius, Philippines and in any city there is a Chinatown. Wang said he sees the influence of Chinese New Year growing in other countries. He attended one celebration in a Chinatown in Los Angles where all the stores had closed and people were having a good time. “Slowly, you can see there is more and more influence,” said Wang. “This is good.” This influence has spread to the Illinois Valley area through Lois Croasdale, an elementary school teacher who started celebrating Chinese New Year at her church, Grace United Methodist in La Salle, because of her adopted Chinese daughter, Sarah. “We really wanted her to feel she had the opportunity to learn about her culture,” Croasdale said. “We meet other families in our church with adopted Chinese children and we all wanted to get together and celebrate Chinese culture.” Croasdale said they chose Chinese New Year because of the rich tradition and importance it carried in Chinese culture. They held their first celebration in the church basement in 2008 and had several activities for the kids that incorporated Chinese culture, including learning to eat with chopsticks, dancing and playing Chinese musical instruments. The event also showcased a dragon costume for the parade and Chinese food. Children also wore traditional Chinese dress and made Chinese hats to wear. “After the event, my husband said ‘all we need now is fireworks,’ so the next year we added outdoor fireworks,” Croasdale said. A majority of the people who attend the event have adopted children from China. “There are 12 families with adopted children involved with the event,” Croasdale said. Croasdale also tries to invite families from China or of Chinese heritage and anyone from the Illinois Valley area by using radio, newspaper and TV ads, word of mouth, church announcements and hanging fliers at local Chinese restaurants. “I want it to be a community thing that anyone can go to,” she said. Croasdale said the event has grown due to support from the church and pastor, the Rev. Jennifer Wilson. The church started a Chinese Christian Fellowship designed to reach out to residents from China. They hold Bible studies in Mandarin Chinese and several small cultural events throughout the year. Last year, they combined their celebrations to include St. John’s Lutheran Church in Peru. However, their biggest event is always the New Years celebration. The Chinese calendar marks different years by following a rotating order of 12 animals. These animals are referred to as the Chinese Zodiac and include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. People born under a certain animal year are said to have character traits associated with the animal. For example, people born in the year of the pig would be good-mannered, compassionate and intelligent while people born in the year of the monkey are energetic and lack self control. This year will be the year of the snake. People born this year might be generous, charming, good with money, insecure, jealous, hard-working and intelligent. Croasdale said the event hosts activities connected to the Chinese Zodiac animal featured that year. “We had a petting zoo for the year of the rabbit and an extra dragon costume for the year of the dragon,” Croasdale said. This year will feature activities dealing with snakes. The kids will have different crafts and learn to write snake in Chinese characters. “I considered getting a person with snakes,” Croasdale said and added with a laugh, “I didn’t want to deal with reptiles.” Croasdale is happy that so many families attend the event to gain appreciation for Chinese culture. She said many family friendships have formed from the event and is pleased by how much her daughter gets involved. “She enjoys it and offers suggestions every year,” Croasdale said. This year’s event is 5-7:30 p.m. today at St John’s Lutheran. It is free to attend and food will be provided. There also will be live violin music at dinner and children can learn to make an abacus, a Chinese invention. Croasdale said she admires Chinese New Year for the tradition of letting go of the old and bringing in the new. Wang said if he had to describe the event to Americans, he would tell them it is like Christmas to the Chinese people and added it was a slight adjustment getting use to an American New Year. He described the American idea as being more liberal and open-minded about the day. Wang said he will celebrate the American New Year, but Chinese New Year is more important to him and will continue to share it with his family in the future.
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