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Cabarrus residents ring in the Chinese New Year

CONCORD — For millions of Asians and Asian Americans, today is the first day of the new year — a time for feasting and fellowship.
“In China, the New Year is like the Christmas holiday,” said Mike Wang of the Cabarrus Chinese American Association. “All the family tries to get together.”
The Cabarrus Chinese American Association held its second annual Chinese New Year Festival at Cox Mill High School on Saturday, drawing more than 350 participants, according to organizers.
The day started with activities for kids, including crafts and lessons in Chinese calligraphy.
After lunch, the stage show opened with a Lion Dance, the traditional costumed dance featuring two “lions” brought to life by members of the Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy.
A test of coordination and skill, the Lion Dance is meant “to overcome spirits of negativity,” according to the emcees. It marks an auspicious start to the Year of the Snake – this year’s zodiac sign, according to the traditional Chinese calendar cycle.
As drums and chimes played, the lions competed to grab pieces of “lettuce” from the front of the stage.
The Chinese New Year is a holiday full of symbolism, and the “lettuce” is no exception. It’s is symbolic of wealth and good luck, because the Chinese word for this vegetable sounds like the word for “fortune.”
For Jing Hou, originally from Beijing and now living in Kannapolis, the holiday is full of memories, and symbolism.
The fried dumplings her family always made for the Chinese New Year are shaped like gold bars.
“You must eat them, in order to have money the next year,” she said.
The festival offered Hou a chance to teach her kids about the holiday, she said.
“Here, it’s hard,” Hou said. “We try to teach our kids the traditions here, but the community is really, really small.
“In China, you have so many relatives there,” Hou continued. “You go and say happy new year to everyone. Here, you only have the friends.”
Just as there are many different cultures and traditions in the United States, China is a nation of many different people and cultures.
In southern China, in Shanghai province, sticky rice flavored with sesame or peanut is a traditional food, Hou said.
Another friend, from Fujian, has “fishballs” — think meatballs, only made with fish — as a traditional New Year dish.
TinChung Leung, a researcher for N.C. Central University working at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, said the event helps locals better understand this important holiday.
Wang agreed.

“Through this event, the people will see how the traditional Chinese culture tied the family together,” he said. “We always see the family ties.”
Leung said the holiday reminds him how age and experience are respected in China – a good lesson for the younger generation of Americans.
The audience had a chance to enjoy demonstrations of Tai Chi and Kung Fu, as well as traditional Chinese musical instruments and songs from local schoolchildren.
For Fuxia Jin, an employee of Dole Foods in Kannapolis, the event was reminiscent of her earlier days as a child in the province of Inner Mongolia, in northern China.
Jin said the festival reminded her of growing up in the agricultural areas of China, and of the years she spent working in Shanghai before coming to the U.S.
For her daughter, Katie, and majority of the children in the audience, the most highly anticipated part of the festival was the handing out of hongbao, or “red packets” — the gift of money given out to kids at the Chinese New Year.
“The money we called ya sui qian, which means ‘money for growing one year older,’ Jin said, though she added that “different people have different interpretations.”
According to published sources, the tradition of giving money was originally meant to ward off evil spirits.
For the children at Saturday’s festival, the money inside — a 50-cent piece — was both unusual and, in its own way, easily warded off. Many of them went on to spend their hongbao at a vendor selling small toys and trinkets.
Their families gathered nearby, snapping pictures and chatting.
“This is a chance for families to get together,” said Pei Zhu, originally from Hunan province.
In China, Zhu said, “daughters and sons go off to work, and only at this time (of year) do they come back.”
Though they’re thousands of miles from their families and hometowns, the Chinese American community of Cabarrus County is bent on keeping the tradition alive for their sons and daughters.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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