URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — We are well into the new year now, but the start of the Lunar New Year is still a few days away.
More than a billion people across the world will ring in the Year of the Rabbit, including here in Central Illinois.
Students and staff at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Urbana are getting a head start on the celebrations.
Fifth grader Daniel Cui and fourth grader Marina Xiao say they go by two names: their English one and their Chinese one.
A bi-cultural identity can be hard to balance, but within these school walls, it is part of the curriculum.
“Our school happens to be the school that a lot of international families come to,” explains music, dance, and drama teacher, Cara Maurizi. “Over the years, the Chinese population has grown, and it has become a big part our culture here.”
The Chinese students are part of an ESL, or English as a Second Langauage program. It is lead by teacher Dr. Zhang.
This month, they also got to teach their fellow students about their culture in honor of Lunar New Year. It is one of the most important holidays.
“We always go back to china so we can celebrate the new year,” says Marina.
Since many kids will be taking some time off school to do the same, they had an early celebration. All the Chinese students and each second grade class prepared for weeks.
They paraded through the school gym with the dragon and the lion, recited a poem called, ‘The Purple Lilac Tree,’ and performed traditional dances and songs.
“It was a nice way to fit in the arts, but also celebrate something that’s really important to a lot of our families,” says Maurizi.
Maurizi helped the kids get ready for the big day. She says they put in a lot of time and effort.
“We don’t really have that chance to join a big celebration party with our community or our kids, says mom Jean Liang.
She and her family moved here a few years ago. The festivities are huge in their home country.
“Every lunar new year, we gather our whole family and get together for a reunion dinner, and we prepare special food like dumplings and Lunar New Year cakes,” says Liang.
This year, the holiday begins at the start of the new moon on January 22nd and lasts 15 days until the full moon arrives.
It is not only celebrated in China, but also in several other east and southeast Asian cultures.
From clothing to décor, everything and everyone is decked out in the color red. It stems from an ancient Chinese legend about a monster named Nian.
“Every Lunar year, he came down to the town to eat the humans and livestock, but he is afraid of the color red and afraid of the fireworks,” explains Liang.
From the history behind it, to the fun school assembly, it is an opportunity for kids from all backgrounds to celebrate diversity.
“[I love] seeing the excitement in the kids’ faces with something they’ve never seen before, and seeing their peers up there doing something really special,” says Maurizi.