HAPPY (CHINESE) NEW YEAR: How to Join Eau Claire’s First-Ever Chinese New Year Celebration
Pablo Center, MingXin Chinese Cultural Exchange bring traditional festivities to town
新年快乐 or Xīnnián kuàilè – Happy Chinese New Year! While Feb. 1 officially marks the beginning of the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac, the entire month of February will include celebrations throughout the Chippewa Valley starting with the first city-wide Chinese New Year Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 29.
Though you may not get 15 days off of work to celebrate with family like the traditional celebrations in China call for, families and friends in Eau Claire are encouraged to reconnect just like families do across the globe.
Chinese New Year means together and family.
Owner of Mingxin Chinese cultural Exchange
“I did small (Chinese New Year) events, and people loved it,” said Xin Obaid, owner of Eau Claire’s MingXin Chinese Cultural Exchange tearoom. “So I said to myself, ‘I would like to do a real Chinese New Year festival to show the Eau Claire community how we celebrate the Chinese New Year, because the Chinese New Year is the number one biggest holiday in China.’ … Everyone – it doesn’t matter who you are – you need to go home. … Chinese New Year means together and family. It doesn’t matter what happened, as much as you can, you need to go home.”
Obaid recalls celebrations of years past, where her grandmother’s large stove played a prominent role in frying up a little bit of everything. “We eat good food and we drink good things,” she said with a laugh. “Everybody needs to talk. Really talk. That means family cares about everyone (and shares) about what you have done, what you are going to do next year, what you need help with.”
The celebration, slated for Saturday, Jan. 29, will kick off with a black-tie Chinese art exhibit and reception, at 1:30pm featuring art shipped by Obaid across the country.
But perhaps more vibrantly, enjoy the traditional lion dancing courtesy of the Madison-based Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association. Lion dancers are an important tradition during the Chinese New Year, as they symbolize power, chasing away evil spirits to bring about good fortune for the new year.
红包 or hóngbāo (or red envelopes containing Chinese yen) are paid to the lions through their mouths. It's kind of like tipping, only it’s a little more fun; you get to let lions literally eat your money.
Obaid encourages attendees to bring traditional hóngbāo (American dollars are cool, too!) to let the lion dancers know they’re doing a good job!
In addition to traditional lion dancers and Chinese artwork, there will also be a Chinese poetry reading, traditional calligraphy demonstrations, and a performance by a regionally (and internationally) renowned Chinese soprano, Mei Ma.
Later, tune into the Minnesota Chinese Music Ensemble, featuring a traditional, historic Chinese instrument called a guquin – or a seven-stringed instrument known for its peaceful musical capabilities.
Similarly, listen to a traditional Jiahu gǔdí (贾湖骨笛), the oldest-known musical instrument from China. Some of these instruments, known as “bone flutes” date back to 6,000 BCE.
If listening to so much music gets you hungry, no fear! At 4:30pm, Shanghai Bistro will be serving up traditional Chinese eats.
And though delicious spring rolls, dumplings, and rice cakes make for the perfect ending to a celebratory evening, that’s not the end of Chinese New Year festivities in the Valley. Quite the contrary; celebrations for the new year continue throughout February.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, from 2:30 to 3:30pm, check out a free Fenjiu tasting at Artisan Forge Studios, courtesy of Shanxi Xinghuacun Fenjiu International Trade Co. Fenjiu is known as one of the cleanest Chinese spirits (making you less likely to have a hangover!) originating from Shanxi in northern China. It’s a type of baijiu with a sweet, mellow taste.
On Saturday, Feb. 12, from 1:30 to 2:30pm, there will be a Chinese ink and calligraphy event, where attendees can create their own Chinese fans using provided materials.
On Saturday, Feb. 19, from 1:30 to 2:30pm, check out a fashion show featuring authentic Chinese silk scarves. Finally, on Saturday, Feb. 26, from 1:30 to 2:30pm, stretch your muscles with a Chinese Tai Chi dance.
Ultimately – even with all the celebrations, festivities, and fanfare surrounding the festivities – the whole month-long celebration comes down to celebrating Chinese art, culture, and customs. Even deeper than that, it’s about celebrating family, friends, and community.
And without one last push from local artist Terry Meyer, the entire inaugural event may not have even happened.
“He asked me, ‘What is your legacy?’ ” Obaid said. “And she said, ‘I want to do the Chinese New Year Festival.’ So that is the encouragement from him. Because I wanted to do it, but I wasn’t sure. He said the one sentence that really encouraged me: If you do that, you create the history of Eau Claire, because no one ever has.’ I said, ‘Really? I’m going to create the history,’ and he said, ‘Yes!’ so I said, ‘Alright! I’ll do it.’ … I created the history in Eau Claire.”
Check out more about the Chinese New Year festival at pablocenter.org. Tickets to the event cost $25. Tickets including dinner cost $45.