With almost 10,000 Asian-Americans living in the Tampa Bay area, the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration holds an increasingly important meaning. Tuesday marks the Chinese New Year, and the year of the horse will begin. But Sunday, more than 1,400 people gathered in the Special Events Center to commemorate this event.
In Asia, the New Year is usually celebrated for about a week. It was once a religious holiday, when the ceremony was used to scare away evils in the temples.
John Scolaro, director for Pong Lai Martial Arts Training Center, said today, the intent of the new year is an event to bring in the blessing of a new year and take the evil out of the previous year. “In Asia, it’s still religious,” Scolaro said. “But it became more of a marketing ploy – especially in the United States. It differs from person to person.”
Howard Yu, chairman for the Organizing Committee of the Chinese New Year Celebration, said the year of the horse would bring challenges and hard work along with success. The Chinese calendar operates on a 12-year cycle with a different animal corresponding to a particular year.
“The horse’s personality is very aggressive,” Yu said. “It works for peace for society.”
Yu said 300 people and six different organizations in Tampa Bay were involved in the planning of the celebration, and it had been in the works for three months. The organizers were all volunteers; no money was made from the tickets that were sold – the money paid for the food for the celebration.
Yu said although the Chinese and Taiwanese are divided by political issues, the community put their differences aside as they worked together for the celebration. The performances were all created solely for the festivities.
Yu said the Sept. 11 attacks have affected the nature of the celebration, and they wanted to incorporate their enthusiasm and love for America into their performances.
“We want to show two things: to show appreciation to the Chinese motherland and to show appreciation to this land,” Yu said. “We are united under the American flag and under Chinese traditions.”
After the opening celebration Sunday, six speakers outlined the event with background history and appreciation. Joan McCarthy, dean for International Affairs, noted the year of the horse as a “year of difficult challenges and a time of greater understanding for the people of the world.”
The lion dancing, taught by Scolaro, followed the speeches. The lion dance is used to bring good luck to those for whom it performs, and it is not only used for the New Year celebration. Scolaro said lion dances are performed for businesses hoping to achieve good luck as well as political races in Asia.
Two masked people, known as either a Buddha or fool, dance in front of the lion in order to direct the lion and its movements. The lions are ordered from China and are made from paper mache, and each lion normally lasts for about one year, Scolaro said.
At Sunday’s celebration four lions with exaggerated movements danced for the crowd, and one even danced through the crowd as Asian music fluttered in the background.
Following the lion dance were performances by a choir dedicating a song to peace and a duo folk dance performance complete with bright red and green silk costumes.
Another group presented a skit to the audience in which a girl’s eyes, nose, ears and mouth argued about which of the senses should receive more credit for its function.
More dances and a violin quartet followed, along with a hip-hop dance performed by the Chinese Youth Club, during which some of the children used glow sticks to create a colorful light show, and others did break-dancing for the audience.
A children’s chorus from USF, Tampa and Clearwater filled the stage as they sang “God Bless America.”
“To see those children standing there singing ‘God Bless America’ really brings a lump to my throat,” McCarthy said. “It’s a testimony to the type of mosaic culture we have here.”
In another Chinese tradition, red envelopes were given to children younger than 12 years old. As the children collected their envelopes, the adults were to place money inside so they could buy candy at the celebration time.
At 6 p.m., the festivities stopped for the Chinese dinner, which symbolizes a family reunion. The celebration concluded with a dancing party.
Yu said that the Chinese population is growing year by year, and this celebration was a way to continue Chinese traditions while showing their appreciation for America.
“We want to let the American people understand our culture,” Yu said. “We need more communication.”
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