Residents gathered at the Carmine Carro Community Center on Saturday afternoon to take part in Lunar New Year festivities, celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with performances by the Southern Praying Mantis Lion Team and Sunrise Glow Chinese Dancers.
Organized by the Marine Park Alliance (MPA) with the help of Shannon Mei, parent coordinator at Brooklyn Technical High School, along with student volunteers, all helped set the event up to share the celebration of Lunar New Year and East Asian culture with the Marine Park community.
“In the past, no Asians participated in the event, so they wanted Asians to be part of the community to organize this event,” said Mei. “It is a good presentation to show all the local residents about the Lunar New Year. It lets people know more about our culture, so it will bring harmony to the neighborhood.”
This is the Year of the Rabbit, a year of relaxation, caution and self-reflection. East Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea, also celebrate the Lunar New Year. It formally started last Sunday, beginning 15 days of celebrations and traditions. Many of these traditions are to welcome good luck, health and wealth into one’s life. Such practices are also meant to honor the family ancestors and are often done by offering cultural foods and lighting incense at altars. Other traditions include eating a large amount of those cultural foods, setting up lanterns in the home, giving red envelopes containing money to young children and, if safe, setting off fireworks.
The event started with a performance from the Southern Praying Mantis Lion Team. The performance explained the significance of this Chinese tradition, mainly how the lion is used to bless people and scare away evil spirits, and how it symbolizes the New Year by eating lettuce (life itself) and mandarins (sweetness in life) and a red envelope (wealth). It continued with several performances from the dancers of Sunrise Glow Chinese Dancers.
“This is our first show for Marine Park and hopefully we’ll do a good job in explaining some of the traditions of Chinese Lion dance and bringing blessings, scaring away the spirits and bringing good luck to the audience,” said Norman Chin, the grandmaster of Southern Praying Mantis Lion Dance Team. “We had traditions of over 5,000 years to celebrate Lunar New Year. I think that as a multicultural event, a lot of people don’t understand what the lion dance is all about. When we perform, we try to educate the audience so that they understand some of the traditions of our dance and that would help close the cultural gap.”
Kristy Di Cario curated the event and explained the traditions and legends that pertain to Lunar New Year, such as the 12 Chinese zodiacs. One legend recalls why each animal year is celebrated in that order. The 12 animals, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig, swam across a river and in whatever order they reached the shore, the celebration will be in that order. The rat was the first due to their sneakiness and cleverness as they hopped on the ox’s back and jumped off just before the ox reached the shore. The pig was last to reach the shore due to its laziness.
Another legend concerns the Beast of Nian, in which a beast destroyed a village’s crops and ate the villagers themselves. One day an elder came by and showed the villagers how to defend themselves with the color red, loud noises, burning red lanterns all night, and lighting fires and firecrackers. All this commotion sent the beast away; in part, this legend explains the festivities of the Lunar New Year.
Throughout the year, the MPA holds ceremonies to celebrate diverse holidays and heritages to expose people to new cultures and bring them together.
“The MPA always does Chinese New Year. This is our seventh year, so this has been great,” said Maria Carro-D’Alessandro, president of the MPA. “We were trying to get all the cultures involved, and this is just a part of our cultural activities that we’re developing. This is our first event that we always do, so it’s nice to have a big crowd come and enjoy and be part of it.”