Happy Lunar New Year!

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The Great Neck Chinese Association celebrates the Year of the Pig with music and dance performances

The Great Neck Chinese Association (GNCA) Lunar New Year festivities featured extravagant music and dance, performed by talented members of the community in lavish costumes, on Sunday, Jan. 27, in the filled North Middle School auditorium.

Celebrated by more than 20 percent of the world, Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday to the Chinese, as well as to other Asians, including Koreans and Vietnamese.

“Chinese (Lunar) New Year is one of the most important holidays for Chinese people around the world,” said Rebecca Chu, GNCA Communication Chair. “People come back home from wherever they are to celebrate, to reunite, to appreciate and to treasure the people they love. Both my husband and I have big families back in China, and here we built our own little nest with three lovely children, born and raised in the U.S. We would like them to always remember the thousands of years of rich culture and the love we have for it.”

The Spring Festival was originally a ceremonial day to pray to gods for a good planting and harvest season—and fighting off monsters. According to legend, a monster named Nian would come about every New Year’s Eve. While most people would hide in their homes, one boy was brave enough to fight him off using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated by setting off more firecrackers, and that practice became a crucial part of the celebration.

In fact, the most fireworks are set off in the world that night to scare off monsters and bad luck. In the morning, firecrackers are used again to welcome the new year and good luck.

Starting in the 1980s, China’s state-controlled television network, CCTV, has hosted a show every year on Lunar New Year’s Eve, explained GNCA Communications Committee Chair Mimi Hu.

“If one was not the most famous celebrity before being invited to the show, they most certainly would be after they appeared, since most Chinese families would watch and talk about the program for days,” said Hu. “The show was like a combination of the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Grammys and Super Bowl, though no awards were handed out—and the commercial air time during the show is the most expensive in China. This is why most first-generation Chinese immigrants spend months preparing for a show similar to this to be presented to their local communities, such as the GNCA Spring Festival show.”

More than 150 performers and 100 volunteers have been rehearsing for Sunday’s show for six months or longer. The program featured 18 elaborate musical and dance performances with participants from as young as 4 to an energetic group of seniors from the Great Neck Social Center.

“It’s so wonderful seeing the generations perform together, exuding pride,” noted Great Neck Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Teresa Prendergast.

The Spring Festival is the longest Chinese holiday.

“The Lunar New Year celebration lasts for about 15 days and ends on Lunar Jan. 15 of the Lantern Festival,” explained Hu. “During these 15 days, there are traditions of visiting in-laws, relatives, friends, neighbors, class reunions and tomb sweeping for ancestors—a bonding time for different generations and communities to come together. Not only do the traditions vary in different provinces and cities or villages, but every family has their own rituals, too—it is part of the identity of a family or a community.”

This year, Feb. 5 marks the start of the Year of the Pig, the 12th of all zodiac animals. Zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture, and can be used to determine important life events, such as fortune for the year, marriage compatibility, career fit and the best times to have a baby. In Chinese culture, pigs are the symbol of wealth. Their chubby faces and big ears are signs of fortune. Those born in the Year of the Pig are believed to have a beautiful personality and are blessed with good fortune.

The most important part of Chinese New Year is the family reunion. Everyone tries to come back home for the New Year’s Eve dinner, the most important meal of the year.

“For us, Lunar New Year is a time of family gathering and celebration of togetherness,” said Great Neck resident Daisy Xia. “At times when we could not be together, which is the case of this year, it will be a time to remember the good old days and look forward to the time when we will be together again. It is also an important time to remember who we are and where we come from.”

During the holiday, grandparents present their grandchildren with red envelopes containing money, hoping to pass on a year of good fortune and blessings.

“For me, the Lunar New Year celebration represents part of my identity,” said Hu. “It is my most happy and indelible memories of growing up. In the not so distant past, most Chinese families had very limited means. It was only during the Lunar New Year that we would get to eat unlimited candies, favorite dishes and, for some children, enough food to escape hunger—even the poorest families would manage to put out a festive dinner because it will bring prosperity for next year. It is also the time for many Chinese children to get pocket money to spend for the entire year. So, for Chinese children, Lunar New Year is a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween.”

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