A community celebration of Chinese culture will culminate Saturday with a parade of “blessing lanterns” around University Place and wishes for peace and happiness in the new year.
Chapel Hill’s first LIGHTUP Lantern Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the mall. The festival falls on the Chinese New Year, the first day of the ancient Chinese lunar calendar also known as the Spring Festival.
China’s New Year celebrations can last for a week or more, ending with the Lantern Festival. The focus is on family and good wishes, and homes are often decorated with red banners, lanterns and cutouts symbolizing luck. Children also receive red envelopes filled with money and wishes.
China’s Lantern Parade is a more formal event, but the Chapel Hill festival will get everyone involved, festival director Huina Chen said. Frank Gallery artists will help people decorate their own lanterns for a parade of lights around the mall at dusk.
“It will create a spectacular sight,” she said.
More than 30 booths in the mall will offer low-cost food options, plus crafts, games, dragon dance contests and performances. Over 100 “enthusiastic and supportive” community volunteers worked for three months to make it happen, Chen said, and students decorated lanterns for auction to support arts education.
“I think that this is a way to share our culture, and we also feel very encouraged that we see great support from the broader community, like the town of Chapel Hill and the Orange County Arts Commission,” she said. “All of that positive feedback to our community makes people want to share and want to engage.”
The festival is hosted by the Chinese School at Chapel Hill, which meets at Culbreth Middle School every Saturday throughout the school year to promote Chinese language literacy and cultural exchange.
Festival sponsors include the town of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, the Confucius Institute at NC State, Duke Energy, the Orange County Arts Commission, Grandwell LED LCD Display Solutions, University Place, WCHL, RTP Pediatric Dentistry, Hibachi China Buffet, NC Subway Inc., the Chinese-American Friendship Association of NC, Li Ming’s Global Market, Keith Taylor DDS Family Dentist, Grand Asia Market, H Mart and the Fafalist.
Chapel Hill has a large Chinese population. U.S. Census data shows 13 percent of the town’s residents were Asian in 2015, up from 7 percent in 2000. Roughly 5 percent of town residents were ethnic Chinese.
It’s important to celebrate that cultural diversity, said Town Council member Jessica Anderson, who suggested a festival after attending a 2015 campaign forum at the Chinese School.
“I think that’s something that we should be encouraging more in our community, because we bring people from all over the world to UNC, so why are we not encouraging more celebration of other cultures?” Anderson said.
As parents, Chen said, they want to be good models for their children.
“I want (my kids) to feel confident that we may not look the same as the majority, but we can contribute,” she said. “We are here to make a difference.”
If you go
The First Chapel Hill LIGHTUP Lantern Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at University Place (University Mall) on South Estes Drive. A Lantern Artwalk with student work from four Chapel Hill schools will be sold in a silent auction.
Admission is free, but a small fee will be charged for lanterns and food. More information is available at chlightup.org.