FORT WAYNE — To kick off the event, a group of boys in bright mustard yellow garb lined in bright red piping wound their way through the crowd, each holding a wooden stick. Atop the sticks was a long yellow dragon, its head mounted on the first stick and various parts of its snakelike body held up by the rest.
As the boys waved their hands side-to-side and marched in a line, the dragon undulated through the crowd.
It was the beginning of the Fort Wayne Chinese Families & Friends Association’s Chinese New Year Celebration, the culture’s most important holiday. Sunday marked the start of the lunar year 4710, the year of the snake, and nearly 300 Chinese-Americans and other community members gathered in the Walb Ballroom at IPFW to watch the talent program.
Though the association has been putting on the celebration for more than 20 years, Sunday’s event marked the first time it was open to the entire Fort Wayne community, said Jenning Li, president of the Chinese association.
The Chinese New Year is a time for family. People visit relatives and gather together, wishing one another happiness and prosperity, said Hao Sun, a board member of the Chinese association and former president of the group. Small children receive red envelopes filled with “lucky money” – maybe a few dollars, maybe more, depending what the family can afford – from elders, especially grandparents, Sun said. Fireworks, to scare away evil spirits, are also an important part of the Chinese New Year tradition.
A short skit explained the importance of fireworks and the color red: According to Chinese myth, at the start of every year, a monster would come out of the water and terrorize people. Every year, the Chinese would try to fight the monster, but they would always lose. Eventually, people learned the monster was fearful of the color red and of the sound of bamboo burning, which they mimicked with fireworks.
Sheena Choi has attended multiple Chinese new year events. Choi is Korean, and Korea’s New Year celebration is similar to the Chinese celebration, she said. She shared a hope that one day, Asians in Fort Wayne would support a singular party for the new year.
“The dance and food preparation may be different, but we celebrate the same day,” she said. “I think this could have been very wonderful for east Asian cultures to get together and celebrate their customs and get to know each other.”
In addition to the skit, the celebration featured singing, dancing, a demonstration of Taiji Quan, a form of martial arts, and games and prizes.
The various Chinese years are based on the zodiac, and though there are certain qualities attributed to each sign, many dismiss them as folk beliefs, Sun said. According to TravelChinaGuide, which calls itself China’s largest online tour company, the traits associated with the Year of the Snake are less than fortuitous: malevolence, cattiness and mystery. It is also associated with divination and the ability to distinguish herbs.
Those born during the year of the snake are good tempered and talented at communication, though they say little. They are moral, wise and good with money. However, they are also jealous and suspicious. They are also fickle and can have relationship problems.