By Gabriel Ramos
CHAMBLEE, Ga. – Firecrackers erupted, which signified the start of the lion dance, where two two-man teams dressed in colorful lion costumes engaged in staged combat while they threw candy out to the surrounding crowd. After the dance, the lions collected red envelopes containing money, or hongbao, from spectators, and a dragon dance took center stage. Such an event is an important part of celebrating the Lunar New year in Chinese culture.
“The significance of [the lion dance] is ushering [in] the new year, repelling bad spirits and trying to bring in good luck, as well as some prosperity, too,” said Christopher Lu, one of the four men who performed the dance. “The red envelope is like, they give a little bit in there, and it’s multiplied. So whatever you give in, you get more out of it.”
The Chinese Lunar New Year Festival, held at the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office, brought together not just the Chinese community, but all of Atlanta. The Chinese are proud to share their culture with others in this lively event.
“We try to celebrate people all together, [for] Chinese New Year,” said Christopher’s father, FuTai Lu, who assisted in the planning and execution of the celebration.
Lu said that the celebration has existed for thousands of years, but that in Chamblee, the festival has been around since 1976 and has grown in that time. The day of the Lunar New Year often falls within the first two weeks of February, and this particular festival was celebrated on both days of the following weekend, with an entry fee of $5.
Inside the main hall of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office, visitors were treated to shows of Chinese fashion, music, and various other traditional dance. In addition, many vendors had wares to sell, from clothing and jewelry to trinkets and toys, like marionettes of Chinese lions like in the dance.
Various restaurants from around town sold a wide variety of typical Chinese dishes, many of which are highly uncommon to the Western palate, and were mostly marked with signs in Chinese and not in English. Fortunately, most vendors were willing to translate and describe their sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, rolls wrapped in bean curd, steamed buns filled with pork or red beans, and many other exotic plates. They were small servings and cost less than $5 each.
The attendees themselves were as varied as the city of Atlanta itself, with people of all ethnic backgrounds partaking in something new and giving their Valentine’s Day a different spin. Even local politicians joined in the festivities.
“I come to these functions here at the center every year, and I’m amazed at the cultural diversity you see in this room,” said John Padgett, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. “It’s just a great event and a great day.”
While Atlanta is not necessarily known for its Asian community, it’s clear that word has gotten around about the celebration as the main hall gained a crowd quickly throughout the morning. The popularity was helped by its nature as a family-friendly experience for all Atlantans to enjoy.