The inaugural Chapel Hill LIGHTUP Lantern Festival drew thousands to celebrate and share in Chinese culture for the Lunar New Year.
Some came from as far as Greensboro to fill the halls of University Place in Chapel Hill on Saturday the first day of the Year of the Rooster.
“It’s to celebrate cultural diversity and the Chinese New Year,” said Huina Chen, director of the event. “... This was a way so we could share our culture with the community and make new friends.”
Children and parents crowded around booths to create paper lanterns, assisted by FRANK Gallery artists, and create hats, Chinese fans and more than 20 other crafts. More than 50 businesses and organizations were represented during the daylong affair that included cultural workshops, musical performances, art displays, authentic Chinese food and a silent auction. Primarily organized by the Chinese School at Chapel Hill, an organization that meets on Saturdays to promote Chinese language literacy and culture, the idea for the festival originated during a 2015 candidates forum at the Chinese School.
“We went to to the Chinese School to see if there was a way to embrace community and get together to do something, and the parents got very excited and are very excited to do a cultural experience that’s meaningful to not just one part of the community, but the entire community,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger. “And so we want people to come. And we know the families are going to come because the schools really picked up on this. We want people to have an opportunity to learn something cultural and be a part of it.”
Hanging along a string, lanterns decorated by Chapel-Hill Carrboro City School students were up for auction to raise funds for their schools and traditional Chinese clothing was on hand for people wear and have their photographs taken.
Lijun Chen was one of the chairs responsible for corralling the more than 200 volunteers to help work during the festival.
“We wanted to share the culture with the community and not only show the Chinese culture, but the people involved and engaged in different ways,” she said. “We may come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we are a united community and we want to promote and share that with everybody.”
We all live in this world together so we need to learn and respect each other’s cultures.
U.S. census data show that Chapel Hill’s Asian population is approximately 13 percent and 5 percent of the town’s population is Chinese.
“We wanted to celebrate the Chinese new year because we wanted to promote unity in the community,” said Chinese School Principal Sean Cai. “We have had thousands of kids who came here and who are having fun, and that’s what we want.”
Ryan Hardin was looking at the lanterns up for auction and attended the festival with his wife, Gabrielle, and their friends.
“It sounded like a fun thing to do on a weekend afternoon,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect and it’s been really great. It seems like there’s lots of people here and a lot of really great art projects here.”
Jennifer Diliberto and her husband brought their children to the festival, hoping to teach them more about Chinese culture and reinforce what her middle son learned about the Chinese new year during school.
“We all live in this world together so we need to learn and respect each other’s cultures,” she said.