BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - As the year of the dog came to a close, the residents of Berkeley Heights gathered at the Berkeley Heights YMCA to welcome the year of the pig. In conjunction with the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council, the Berkeley Heights YMCA hosted its second annual Lunar New Year Festival to celebrate the beginning of another year.
Residents were first greeted with a cherry blossom balloon tree, donated by Balloon Design Studios. It hovered over the room and provided a beautiful entrance to the celebration. Locals also had the option to commemorate the new year with a picture in the photobooth using props.
The YMCA multipurpose room was converted into an Asian Night Market, lined with free carnival games for children, a Lunar New Year bake sale featuring pig themed cookies, and an open restaurant selling Thai specialities from Proud Thai in Berkeley Heights. In addition, residents were able to write traditional chinese calligraphy while their children got their faces painted, sponsored by Spring Academy Montessori School.
Throughout the festival, locals participated in multiple simultaneous events. The children were able to take part in a Korean bowing demonstration to follow the Korean tradition that honors their elders. They were also engaged in story time, where they listen to tales such as “This Next New Year”, “Curious George: Dragon Dance”, and “Year Monster.” Adults learned traditional Tai Chi methods taught by Don Madson.
The main events of the evening, however, were the various performances. Beginning with the most well known Lunar New Year tradition, the Wushu Kungfu fitness center first performed their rendition of the “Lion Dance.” Complete with music and intense choreography, this first performance fired up the crowd while also bringing in Mayor Angie Devanney and Berkeley Heights Diversity Council leader Jimmy Joseph to ‘feed’ the ‘lions’ oranges. After this initial performance, Devanney, Joseph, and Berkeley Heights YMCA creative services manager Jenny Hui each took the microphone to welcome everyone to the Lunar New Year Festival.
Mayor Angie Devanney began the remarks by stating, “It’s wonderful that the Berkeley Heights residents can come out and get together to celebrate asian culture.” After these remarks, a number of performances followed, giving the audience an insight into the traditional Lunar New Year celebration. Also in attendance were Council President Alvaro Medeiros, Council Vice President Susan Poage and councilmen Manny Couto and Stephen Yellin.
First, the Wushu Kungfu Fitness Center once again performed a series of traditional martial arts routines. The Spring Academy Montessori School then showcased their student’s talent through a Chinese dance specifically choreographed for Lunar New Year. For the past month, the students at the school had been practicing just for this showcase. From Premier Fitness, four boys demonstrated many Jiu Jitsu techniques including one called Breaking the Guard and another called Guard Passing. Right after, Ann Bartholomew presented a Korean Kimbap Food Demonstration, giving everyone a glimpse at the traditional Korean kitchen.
The night ended with a Kpop Dance Party, bringing in all the kids and closing the celebration for Lunar New Year. And as Hui describes, “It's a great way to create cultural awareness and to share New Year celebrations with the community."