Boston’s Chinatown lantern festival honors Chinese traditions

Boston’s Chinatown lantern festival honors Chinese traditions

By Olivia Arnold, deputy city editor

Boston-based nonprofit organization Chinatown Main Street will host its third annual lantern festival on Saturday to celebrate Chinese traditions and to bond the city’s Chinese-American community together.

The event, which will be held at the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston’s Chinatown from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 10, will feature food vendors, games and entertainment, including performances in martial arts, tai chi and kung fu. The lantern festival honors the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese holiday that is marked by a celebration of the full moon, reuniting with family members, eating mooncakes and lighting lanterns.

“It’s good for Boston students, not just Chinese students,said Amy Zang, a sophomore business management major at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, who plans on attending the upcoming festival. “Also it’s good for Chinese students to get together and then relearn these kind of histories.”

Past festival-goers characterized Chinatown’s celebrations as busy, crowded and loud, but fun and welcoming.

“I’m comfortable with it, but to an outsider […] they might be overwhelmed,” said Kevin Nguyen, a sophomore at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts who has performed at the past two lantern festivals with the Nam Pai Kung Fu Academy. “But once you go through everything, it’s very fun. You get to see and experience a lot of things and enjoy a lot of performances that you normally would not see.”

In addition to demonstrating kung fu, Nguyen performs in the festival’s lion dance, a traditional Chinese dance in which performers wear a four-legged lion costume to the sound of beating drums. The costume is commonly mistaken for a dragon, which requires many more performers, said Nguyen.

Phil Jamsri, an 18-year-old Chinatown resident, attended the 2015 lantern festival and regarded the lion dance as his favorite performance.

“As a little kid, I actually used to do lion dancing and then actually coming here and seeing all the other groups perform, […] I felt a bit more at home,” said Jamsri, a freshman majoring in computer information sciences at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

Jamsri said he also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the community, as he made new friends after bonding over purchasing the same CDs and bamboo trees from the festival’s vendors.

“Interacting with everything like the food, the games, like the community in general, it became a lot more interesting to me,” he said. “It felt very warm, it felt very welcoming.”

The Mid-Autumn festival is on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, when there is a full moon. The Chinese word for reunion, tuanyuan, translates to “a perfect circle” in English. The full moon is therefore seen as a symbol for reunion because of its circular shape, said Zang, who is originally from Beijing.

Families who reunite for the holiday gaze at the moon and eat mooncakes, which are circular pastries with fillings like red bean, ice cream and green tea, Zang said.

Nguyen noted that the lantern festival brought people closer together, especially at a time when he said the community in Chinatown has been affected by gentrification and the closing of local businesses.

“It’s nice to have these festivals that just bring people together and remind us that we’re all one,” Nguyen said. “We all have the same culture at the end of the day.”

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

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