Chapel Hill Hosts Its First Chinese New Year Festival in January 2017
These lanterns decorated by artists, students and other volunteers will be on display and for sale at the LIGHTUP Festival.
Photos courtesy of LIGHTUP Festival
Gōng Xǐ! Happy New Year! On Jan. 28, we will enter the Year of the Rooster, and Chapel Hill is set to host its first community-based festival showcasing the sights, sounds and tastes of Chinese culture in honor of the Chinese New Year. The 2017 Chapel Hill LIGHTUP Lantern Festival 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28, at University Place in Chapel Hill offers free admission, and everyone is welcome.
The Back Story
The 2017 Chapel Hill LIGHTUP Lantern Festival was first conceived by Mayor Pam Hemminger and town council member Jessica Anderson, following a bid by the Chinese community for the town to develop ways to celebrate diversity and invite the broader community to learn more about Chinese culture. Anyone who lives in Chapel Hill knows that the Chinese community occupies an important place in this town. About 3,000 residents — more than 5 percent of Chapel Hill's total population — are of Chinese heritage, and many are of the professional community and have established numerous Chinese schools, cultural organizations and commercial establishments. To this end, the Chapel Hill town leaders approached the Chinese School of Chapel Hill (CSCH) and proposed the idea of organizing a large-scale festival for the general public.
The CSCH organizers felt this was a unique opportunity not only to educate and entertain people with the richness of Chinese culture, but also to build bridges and develop friendships across all cultural borders. With this in mind, they developed a unique program that invites both spectators and participants, from all ages and backgrounds, and have integrated it with the Chinese New Year tradition of bestowing blessings of peace and happiness on the entire community. It is their hope that the LIGHTUP Festival will serve as a model to inspire other such events that promote integration and understanding among other cultural groups in Chapel Hill.
The Lantern Theme and Festival as Community Art Project
Although the festival takes place on the day of Chinese New Year, it is inspired primarily by the Chinese Lantern Festival, which occurs two weeks later and marks the end of the New Year celebrations. In Chinese tradition, the lantern is a symbol for wishes and blessings, and the core program of the LIGHTUP Festival is built around the theme of the lantern— in particular, in creating a communal art project that will culminate in a magnificent display of illumination imparting wishes of peace and happiness on the community. For a small fee, visitors can purchase and decorate their own lanterns with the guidance of a professional artist. At the end of the festival, anyone can march in the closing parade with his or her creation, along with thousands of other blessing lanterns, to create a spectacle of light and color. According to the festival organizers, this will be the first community art performance of its kind in the area.
Activities and Workshops
In addition to the community lantern display, the festival at 201 S. Estes Drive will feature free activities and events that invite visitors to experience and explore the many aspects of Chinese culture, including:
- Arts and craft stations offering the chance to make traditional crafts, such as Chinese porcelain art scrolls, Beijing Opera masks, Chinese princess headpieces, dancing dragon hand puppets, and more.
- Instructors teaching simple Chinese words, phrases and calligraphy.
- Dragon Dance workshop for beginners, teaching adults and children (older than age 5) how to perform the Dragon Dance with a team.
- Performances featuring the Beijing Opera, Chinese orchestra, cultural dance and singing performances by area students as well as workshops by some of the performers explaining the cultural and artistic aspects behind the performances.
- Other cultural exhibits and workshops, offering interactive programs such as authentic tea ceremony and live studio reporting on Chinese icons.
- A silent auction of about 60 artistic lanterns created by students and artists from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District. All proceeds will go to participating schools to fund their art programs.
Food and Refreshments
At least seven area Chinese restaurants will sell food and drink at the LIGHTUP Festival.
Volunteer Support and Sponsors
Support for this festival has been enormous and inspiring. In addition to the CSCH, most of the area Chinese community schools, cultural organizations and commercial establishments are volunteering their efforts and will be represented at the festival. The festival also has received support from the local government and its organizations, as well as other commercial entities and WCHL radio station.
For More Information on LIGHTUP Festival
Linda Trees is a parent of a first-grader in the Mandarin Dual Language Program at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill and serves as the Chair of the Outreach Committeeof the Glenwood Mandarin Advisory Council. She thanks the CSCH and other festival organizers for their valuable contributions to this post.