In America, a big celebration is held on Jan. 1 – the day that begins the new year. But in China, they celebrate their own new year.
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or the start of the New Lunar Year, is a festival that happens usually in the month of February. This year, the new year – the Year of the Dog – began on Feb. 16.
In China, New Year celebrations start the night before and last throughout the day. It’s typical to hear the pop of firecrackers whizzing through the air, smell the mouth-watering aroma of dumplings and delight in the spreading of red envelopes, often from parent to child.
These red envelopes are called "hong bao," meaning red pouch. They contain a certain amount of money and often a message proposing a healthy and fortunate start to a new year.
During Chinese New Year, most doors are adorned with a red square cloth with golden written characters. This is called a "fai chun," which is a traditional decoration used to help convey happiness and prosperity in the coming lunar year.
Another tradition of the Chinese New Year is the huge celebration, which is broadcast on television globally and features thousands of traditional Chinese dancers, talented singers with their own dance sequence and "xiang sheng," which is a kind of Chinese comedy.
Although a celebration of that scale is hard to replicate, the Chinese Club of Western New York (CCWNY) has been doing if on a smaller scale for the past several years.
This celebration, which takes place in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, offers Chinese people in Western New York their own way to mark the new year.
Emily Sheng, former president of CCWNY, believes the local event is better than the original celebration in a way because not only does it celebrate the Lunar New Year and traditional Chinese culture, it also shares it with others. "We put on a big show every year that’s not just for the Chinese community, but also for any community who loves Chinese culture," she says.
And indeed, it is a big show – the only thing it lacks is some of the overwhelming propaganda the event in China has.
The Chinese New Year performance usually lasts about two hours. Performers practice for months before – usually rehearsals start in the mid- to late summer, with dancers practicing formations and the chorus getting together weekly to sing at the piano.
On the day of the event, performers get ready backstage – they change into traditional costumes and powder on makeup while engaging in conversation with their friends.
At the end of the performance, the announcers welcome children up to the stage to pass out red envelopes that contain one dollar each. Children jump out of their seats as the announcers wave the hong bao – needless to say, this is one of the most beloved traditions of the Chinese New Year.
Most years a banquet follows. The banquet is also considered a part of tradition. There are many round tables in a single room and at the front is a stage that people go up on and perform in xiang sheng. There are be raffles and games on the stage, as well, for both adults and children.
Although the actual performances lasts about two hours, the celebration lasts a day, and the festive spirit lasts the whole year.
The Chinese Club of Western New York (CCWNY) is a nonprofit organization whose main goal is to bring Chinese culture from China and spread it to the United States one step at a time. Right now, they have reached all of Western New York and some parts of Ohio, as well.
The Club’s officers are primarily professionals and/or small business owners. They are usually the ones to sponsor the event, although Confucius Institute is a major sponsor, as well. There also is a smaller branch – the Chinese Youth Club (CYC) – for the children and teenagers.
The hardest part of the performance process is, to Emily Shen, "... we only have a certain amount of spots. We had to pick and choose, we had to let some people be disappointed – and we didn’t want to!"
In the end, Shen said, "... the round of applause, the children laughing … that’s actually rewarding."
Anna Lin is a freshman at Williamsville East High School.