Central Kentucky's Chinese residents enjoyed a taste of home Saturday at a celebration of the Chinese New Year in Lexington.
Monday begins the new lunar year in China, ushering in the Year of the Dragon. The holiday is the most important of the year in China. Hundreds of millions of people travel across the vast country for reunions and feasts with family, jamming railways and roads.
In Lexington, the closest thing was an evening of food, dance and music highlighting Chinese culture at the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts.
Freya Li, 20, an exchange student from China, came from Middlesboro to find familiarity in the food and a man painting traditional Chinese scenes.
"It really brings me back to China," Li said. She has been in Kentucky since August and attends classes at the Middlesboro campus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.
Xin Zeng, a nursing student at UK, said it is hard to be far from family during the holiday. She had come to the celebration with her husband, Chunli Han.
"This activity is like family," Zeng said.
The Chinese New Year marks the end of winter, a time to celebrate the achievements of the year just past and look forward to the coming year with hope, said Wei Luo, who teaches medical physics at UK and is president of the Kentucky Chinese American Association.
Luo said the dragon is a potent symbol in China — energetic, powerful, warmhearted, fearless, positive.
It brings hope, for example, of economic prosperity.
Many Chinese try to time the birth of children in the year of the dragon, which recurs in the Chinese calendar.
The Kentucky Chinese American Association began presenting the New Year's celebration in 2006, said Changzheng Wang, a nutrition researcher at Kentucky State University and past president of the association.
"The interest has grown so much," he said, and not just among Chinese people.
Organizers expected about 1,500 people, including hundreds of non-Chinese, to attend the events Saturday at UK.
Fayette County's Chinese population has grown significantly, from 2,022 in 2000 to 2,718 in 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.
Part of the goal of the celebration is to promote cultural understanding, Luo said.
The program included Indian and flamenco dancing, acrobatics, a harp ensemble and a "comic monologue" on differences between Chinese and American cultures.
"We want to show the very good part of Chinese culture," Luo said.
Judy Cox of Lexington said she attended the event last year and came back this year because she thought her granddaughter, Sophi Belcher, would like it. Sophi, 9, had found several things to enjoy before the show even started: "They have very good dumplings here," she said.