Friday, February 11, 2005
Carlisle Chinese community heralds Year of the Rooster
With standing-room only, town residents streamed into the Corey Auditorium at the Carlisle Public School on Saturday afternoon, February 5. Acclaimed dancer Chiao Bin Huang, a River Road resident, led a demonstration by her kindergarten and elementary students. Huang, originally from Taiwan, has performed as a dancer around the world, including appearances as a guest artist at Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road residency at the Peabody Essex Museum (see Carlisle Mosquito, January 29 issue for a feature about Huang). The hour-long dance presentation included a special performance by Huang in the ribbon dance and multiple opportunities for audience participation. Afterwards, Carlisleans gathered in the school cafeteria to sample a wide array of Chinese food and participate in the craft projects.
Patti Hartigan served as master of ceremonies for the event. She lives on Cross Street with her husband Bennet Ih, a first-generation American with parents from Shanghai, and three young toddlers. Hartigan and her husband observe some Chinese cultural customs, and she recalls a New Year celebration in 2002, the Year of the Horse. "We were at a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge. I was very pregnant, about to 'pop' in a week or so, and we got red envelopes with $1 in them at the restaurant. They're for good luck. As a first-time mother carrying twins, I was very nervous, and I kept the envelopes for good luck. They are still in our kitchen today."
The Chinese New Year celebration continued this week with a slide presentation by Lin Xu of Wolf Rock Road on Thursday, February 10 (see Carlisle Mosquito, February 4 issue for a feature about the photographer). This year, the Chinese New Year officially began on Wednesday, February 9. Lin explains, "The traditional Chinese calendar is a lunar calendar. So between January and February — Chinese New Year is on the new moon. It changes from year to year."
The Carlisle Cultural Council has sponsored many events to mark this special celebration. On February 9 students wore red, a color that symbolizes good luck on the Chinese New Year. The Carlisle Public School held an assembly for students on Friday, February 11.
Food features in festivities
As in most cultures, food is at the heart of Chinese New Year celebrations. And, like our own Thanksgiving, food is in excess. Huang recalls of her youth in Taiwan, "I remember my Mom would cook a lot of food — different foods in different ways. And you're always supposed to have something left. You have to leave extra chopsticks on the table. Everything is supposed to be more."
Lin shares his memories from mainland China, "When I was younger, everything was rationed. You got a certain amount of food, a certain amount of cooking oil, a certain amount of meat. Generally around Chinese New Year, you were rationed more. So you would make long lines — I was the guy in the family so I would stand in line — my parents would give me a ticket from a book. The ticket book says how much you get. You were pretty excited. You had some good food." Lin recalls not being able to sleep at night in anticipation.
The Shanghai Village restaurant in Arlington catered the event. Fortunately as the crowd was larger than anticipated, the owner of the eatery donated $400 extra in food for the event. Supplies also came from the Kam Man supermarket of Quincy.
Keeping traditions alive
The New Year's celebration also brings good fortune to families, especially to children. The red envelopes with monetary gifts from their families are tucked under their pillows according to Huang. The artist reworked the red envelopes into lanterns currently on display at the Gleason Library.
"We are not supposed to sweep the floor on New Year's," says Huang. "They consider that money. You are not supposed to sweep the money away." She tries to keep some of the Chinese cultural traditions alive for her family but adds, "Here it's very hard to celebrate Chinese New Year because there is no holiday."
Also, as Chinese immigrants adopt the American culture, old customs can fade. Ih's parents tried to assimilate him as quickly as possible, and as a result, he does not put much emphasis on the Chinese traditions. "One of the biggest things I regret is that I don't have knowledge of the Chinese language and I wish I did," he says, recalling that his parents did not want him to learn the language until after he had mastered English, but later on he was not interested. "My grandmother in Vancouver can't talk to me." He hopes his own children will have a better understanding of the culture and language.
As evidenced by the interest in activities in Carlisle this week, Chinese cultural traditions are fascinating. Although Chinese New Year may not make it on the calendar as an official holiday for some time to come, it will very likely continue as a new day of celebration for the Carlisle community.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito