BANGOR, Maine — What do 20 kids bouncing on Bubble Wrap sound like?
Answer: Chinese New Year and the firecrackers set off in cities around the world to mark the beginning of a new lunar year.
Students on Saturday popped the bubbles of air sealed in plastic at a party to celebrate Chinese New Year. In China and other nations in the Far East, firecrackers are set off to drive away evil spirits.
The new lunar year will begin Sunday, Valentine’s Day. Because it coincides with the second new moon after the winter solstice, it is not on the same date of the Gregorian calendar each year. Last year, it was celebrated on Jan. 26, and next year it will be marked on Feb. 3.
Saturday’s event, sponsored by the Bangor Chinese School and the Chinese Language and Culture Center of Maine, was held at Husson University. Children born in China and adopted by families in the Bangor area attended along with Chinese high school students studying at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Lee Academy and other schools in northern and eastern Maine. In all, about 100 people attended.
Frank Xu, 18, of Shanghai is a senior at George Stevens Academy. He said he misses his homeland and family during the holiday, which is a major national and family event in China.
“I miss the food,” he said. “Different cities have different cultures and different traditions about food. We have special egg dumplings in Shanghai.
“And we get money,” he continued. “Everyone who is older than you are in your family gives you money in red pockets. They are placed under our pillow. I miss the money.”
Rocky Li, an 18-year-old junior in Blue Hill who also is from Shanghai, compared the “red pockets” in China to the Christmas stocking tradition in the U.S.
The red pockets or envelopes in which money is given are called “lai see” packets, according to a recent story in the South China Morning Post. The tradition dates back hundreds of years to the Qing dynasty when lai see was given as coins tied up with red string. Today, the red pockets are given to younger family members as a blessing for a good year.
The beginning of a new lunar year also marks a change in the Chinese zodiac. On Sunday, the Year of the Ox will end, and the Year of the Tiger will begin.
The tiger is the third sign in the 12-animal Chinese zodiac cycle, according to www.yearofthetiger.com, and is a sign of bravery. Considered to be a courageous and fiery fighter, the tiger was admired by the ancient Chinese as the sign that keeps away the three main tragedies of a household — fire, thieves and ghosts.
Jing Jing Qiu, 16, of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province in central China, is spending the school year studying at Hampden Academy. She is planning a party on the weekend of Feb. 13-14, which is the beginning of February vacation for students in Maine, for her classmates at the home she shares in Hampden with Durell Buzzini.
“If I were home,” she said, “my whole family would make dumplings together in the kitchen. There are special shows on TV and, of course, we would have fireworks. Every family has their own fireworks.”
On Saturday, she performed on the guzheng for the group gathered at Husson. The guzheng is a 21-string, traditional Chinese instrument with movable bridges. About 3 feet long and 1 foot wide, the instrument was on legs and Qiu sat on a chair to play it. Qiu plucked the strings with her right hand with picks taped to her fingers while pressing on the strings with her left. She brought the instrument with her from China and continues to practice while studying in the U.S.
Jing Zhang, director of the Bangor Chinese School, has marked Chinese New Year with her students and their families for several years. This year, local Asian restaurants donated food for the program, which ended with the traditional dance and students donning the dragon costume to ring in a new lunar year.