Lunar New Year Celebration draws large local crowd

The January celebration was the first in-person event of its kind for the town of Amherst.

On Sunday, January 29, Asian Americans and many others from across Amherst packed into the ARMS cafeteria for the town’s first-ever in person Lunar New Year/Spring Festival celebration, put on by the Human Rights Commission.

Philip Avila, the co-chair of the Human Rights Commission, noted the importance of the in-person aspect of the event, something that was lost in the previous two years of the event’s existence. 

“We had a big turnout here. Over 200 people came, and previously it felt like 50 people were online,” he said. “I think people are eager to get together, to celebrate, and of course, food brings people out as well. That sense of community and just having a space to hold in town with an in-person event was very well received.” 

The tables in the middle school cafeteria were covered with red tablecloths and traditional Chinese decorations, such as tangerines, which in Chinese culture are said to bring prosperity.

The event started with four city councilwomen speaking about the Lunar New Year and sharing facts about the Year of the Tiger ending and the Year of the Rabbit beginning. They ended by reading the Human Rights Proclamation.

Next, Dr. Lily Soh came up to speak. She headlined the event and told stories such as the Zodiac story but also talked about traditional Chinese and Vietnamese foods and cultural practices of the Lunar New Year. 

“Having Pastor Lily come and talk about the importance of the event and the historical nature of the event was extremely important,” Avila said. 

One of the stories Dr. Soh told was the Legend of Nian. It is a story about a monster named Nian with sharp teeth and horns who would seclude himself in the sea for most of the year, but every New Year’s Eve, he would come out to the village to hunt people. The people of the village realized this, so every year on New Year’s Eve they would flee into the distant mountains to avoid Nian. 

According to the legend, one year, an old silver-haired man came to the village with the promise of casting out the beast. He stayed the night in the old Granny’s house, and when the beast charged through the front door, he scared it with lights, noise, and red papers on the doors and the windows. This confused the beast and made it afraid, so Nian fled into the night and never returned. This legend led to people donning red, writing couplets on red paper, and lighting candles and fireworks to ring in the New Year for years to come.

After Dr. Soh finished with the story, everyone lined up for food. The event was catered by Crazy Noodles, Formosa, Fresh Side, and Ginger Garden, all Asian restaurants in Amherst. 

“A lot of planning went into it. We had food from different restaurants, so we had to work around getting them to donate,” Avila said. 

After everyone ate, the event moved into the auditorium, where the East Asian Arts Company put on many different dance performances centered around the Lunar New Year. 

Avila touched on wanting to have a Lion Dance that happens in Asian culture, but since they were unable to secure that, he was very satisfied with the several dance performances the event featured instead. “The dances [we had] worked out really great,” Avila said. 

There were eight total performances, some even highlighting important Asian historical events, such as the Flying Tigers and military conflicts in Tibet.