By Annika Hom
QUINCY — Against the rhythmic bang of drums, dancers dressed as red, golden, and neon-pink lions hypnotized a massive crowd squished into bleachers at North Quincy High School.
Ambling up to Mayor Thomas Koch and other officials, the lions waited to be fed a Chinese red envelope symbolizing good luck. At the finale, Koch stood in the center of the gym holding a pig, this year’s zodiac sign, while colorful banners spilled out of the lions’ mouths reading, “Happy New Year.”
Every year, Quincy Asian Resources Inc., a nonprofit that provides social and economic resources to Asian residents, holds its Lunar New Year Festival. More than 10,000 people attended this year’s 31st edition on Feb. 10.
“Especially in this political climate, to have something so special and valued for immigrants — in terms of their identity, in terms of differences, in terms of culture — it’s significant,” said Philip Chong, chief executive officer of the organization.
This is the Year of the Golden Pig, which promises luck, resourcefulness, and unity, according to Chinese legends.
Cartoon depictions of the animal plastered the walls. At arts and craft tables, children made pigs out of egg cartons and paper. A pig mascot posed in pictures with newborn babies.
The high school bustled with back-to-back musical and dance performances, a Super Smash Bros. tournament, carnival games, arts and crafts, food, and vendors.
Sifu Mai Du, the owner of the Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy, trained the group that performed both the dragon and lion dances. Her students have performed at the Lunar New Year Festival on multiple occasions.
“When you bring the lions and the dragons, the spirit of [those beings] will come and bless this area,” Du said of the tradition. “It’s such an honor, and the students work so hard.”
The gymnasium was transformed into a makeshift stage for all the performances, from the event’s start at noon to its finish at 5 p.m.
Children swayed in green tutus with mischievous grins, high schoolers serenaded the crowd with John Mayer cover songs, and a dance troupe from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology performed Korean pop dance for the first time.
Koch thanked North Quincy High School for hosting the event.
“I know my colleagues would agree that the classroom is a great equalizer, no matter what your background, no matter what you think, no matter what your culture,” the mayor said.
Those who follow a lunar calendar mark time based on the cycles of the moon instead of the sun. Though commonly called Chinese New Year, other countries — such as South Korea and Vietnam — also operate on a lunar calendar. This year’s celebration started on Feb. 5.
Quincy is home to the largest concentration of Asian residents in Massachusetts. Census estimates indicate 29 percent of the city’s approximately 94,000 residents are Asian.
“We have so many people who say, ‘Thank you so much for doing that, it brings back childhood memories,’” Du said. “And kids share in that experience with their grandparents. That’s really special.”
Though the majority of the attendees identified as Asian, large populations of non-Asian residents attended the event, too.
Chevon Johnson-Ilegbodu brought her 14-month-old daughter Madelyn for her first Lunar New Year.
“I brought her to learn more about and celebrate other cultures,” Johnson-Ilegbodu said. “She liked the siu mai [dumplings]. She missed the lion dance, but she liked watching the little girls dancing.”
Chong, of Quincy Asian Resources, said people of all backgrounds gave the annual celebration positive feedback.
Du agreed. “Gradually, we’ll see more and more of this in the mainstream. It’s really nice to see this cultural affirmation,” she said. “This is what it means to be Asian or Chinese or Vietnamese or Korean.”
The event wound down around 5 p.m., but the holiday itself continues through Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“This is symbolic for the diverse community to celebrate and be as one,” Chong said.