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Chinese New Year: Meaning & celebration

This week marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year --  the longest and most important of the traditional Chinese holidays.

To celebrate, the Chinese Club of Western New York and the University at Buffalo Confucius Institute are planning a free afternoon of lively music, dance and martial arts demonstrations this Saturday at UB's Center for the Arts.

When I arrived at a recent rehearsal for Saturday's event, a group of about 10 adult dancers were practicing a Tibetan Dance of Peace.

"The majority is about all the peace and how beautiful the Tibetan is and how peaceful a life Tibetan people want," said Li Fu, assistant dance teacher at the Chinese Club of Western New York.  "The one we had before this one, that was a Chinese opera dance.  The music we use is really opera music.  And for that dance it describes the wives, how they're doing at home and how they're doing with their friends."

Then came a children's dance about a favorite Chinese sports--ping-pong.  Teacher Lan Zhang choreographed the dance.

"PingPingPongPong is like a ping-pong sport, how they work together, how they not give up when they cannot do it.  It's the spirit, team spirit," said Zhang.

Peace, family, team spirit, all positive themes to start a new year.  But this year is even more special than most--for this week begins the Year of the Dragon.  

Ken Hu, President of the Chinese Club of Western New York, said the dragon is the only fictional animal in the Chinese zodiac and generally used as the symbol of Chinese culture.  


(Video recorded by WBFO's Marian Hetherly)

"Dragon has a special place in Chinese culture. The dragon is a combination of different pieces of animals integrated together.  So it's a symbol of integration of different ethnic groups of Chinese people, together.  And there is a common saying in China is that the people of China are the descendants of dragon," said Hu.


(Video provided by Gold Summit Organization for Development of Eastern Culture)

Not only does the dragon represent the diverse number of ethnic groups that came together to create China, but it is also a symbol of power that historically could be used only by the emperor.

"If you go to the palace in Beijing or other big palace, you can see the dragon symbol everywhere, from the clothes that the emperor wears to the columns of the big buildings.  They're all dragon symbols.  So it's a symbol of power, but nowadays, everyone loves dragon.  They think it's a symbol of fortune and  happiness," said Hu.

Given its great significance, Hu said the Year of the Dragon is when parents like to give birth.  They may even add the word "dragon" to their sons' names to help ensure a successful life.   

There are many other traditions associated with the Year of the Dragon and the Chinese New Year, including fireworks to signal the start of a joyful time and ward off evil spirits, family reunions spent reconciling differences and feasting on dumplings and other traditional Chinese delicacies, decorations of bright red paper expressing good wishes, and red envelopes containing money for small children to help ensure good fortune throughout the year.

Dr. Eric Yang, Executive Director of UB's Confucius Institute, said Saturday's event is an opportune time for people of non-Chinese descent to partake in and learn about the traditions of another culture.

"I'm sure you'll see a lot of new things you've never seen before, in Chinese style.  You can definitely learn the culture, to understand what the ethnic Chinese people celebrate in the new year, and you can meet lots of new friends in the community.  So I think it would be a great opportunity for all different people of different backgrounds to come join us," said Dr. Yang.

Yang said opening up to different cultures is more important than ever in our globalized world.

"Because now we're in a year of globalization, people need first to know and to understand and to respect and to appreciate other peoples' culture.  The Chinese people now are getting ready to open to the world.  They accept, they learn and they appreciate," said Dr.Yang.

Saturday's free performances will be held from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at UB's Center for the Arts.  A ticketed dinner banquet will follow from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Temple Beth Am in Williamsville, but it's sold out.