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Johns Creek ushers in Year of the Rabbit

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — A red, ornate lion costume paraded across the stage at Mark Burkhalter Amphitheater in Newtown Park, effortlessly operated by two performers raising and lowering its body.

The lion dance, one of several cultural performances at the Johns Creek Lunar New Year celebration Jan. 21, is a Chinese tradition intended to bring good fortune.

Saturday afternoon’s performances were rooted in traditions that spanned countries across East Asia, including Laos, Thailand and Korea.

Commonly known as the Spring Festival in East Asia, Lunar New Year commemorates the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. Several thousand visitors gathered around Newtown Park’s amphitheater throughout the event, which featured traditional food offerings, local vendors and an activity area for kids.

Asian, Indian and Pacific Islanders represent around one-quarter of the city’s population, Johns Creek Volunteer Coordinator Stacey Gross said, and the cultural celebration was intended to provide visitors with a chance to learn and immerse themselves in the Lunar New Year festivities.

Midway through the event, Johns Creek Mayor John Bradberry took the stage.

“Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit,” he said.

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Johns Creek Mayor John Bradberry welcomes visitors to the city’s Lunar New Year celebration Jan. 21.

The rabbit is the fourth celestial animal of the Chinese zodiac. Its sequence is based on Chinese folklore.

Sparkle Oh, who sat alongside her parents on the tiered area at the back of the amphitheater, said she has always celebrated the Lunar New Year with relatives, especially when she lived in South Korea, where her parents are from.

Oh made the trip from Doraville because she wanted to know more of the holiday’s history to share with her friends who don’t celebrate.

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“I didn't know so many other countries celebrate the Lunar New Year,” Oh said. “So coming here and seeing the performers who did the Laos traditional dance was cool to watch.”

In a grassy area to the left of the stage, the Magic Eastern Ensemble played the guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument with 21 strings that was once used to entertain the emperor.

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A performer with the Magic Eastern Ensemble plays the guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument composed of 21 strings once used to entertain the emperor, at the Johns Creek Lunar New Year celebration Jan. 21.

Formed in 2018, the Magic Eastern Ensemble is a nonprofit committed to promoting traditional East Asian instrumental music culture through its combination with Western music culture. Member Cindy Fang said the organization is not specific to one country, and it combines new audiences with many ethnicities.

Linhan Feng, 17, has been playing the guzheng since she was a freshman in high school. With a personal interest in music, Feng said she likes to perform so others can get to know Chinese culture.

Feng and other members of the Magic Eastern Ensemble wore traditional Chinese attire. Feng wore a red, floral hanfu, or robe, which, she said, is what older women wear in the winter. White fur lined the robe.

Feng’s updo was decorated with floral pins with beaded chains hanging from them. She said the hairstyle is worn by married women, while teenagers wear their hair half down. The hair pins, or buyao, are a way of measuring whether someone is a “good lady or not,” Feng said. The objective is to walk around poised so as not to make the buyao swing.

Feng said Lunar New Year is an important holiday for her, despite being in America where the calendar is different.

“I'm really glad that there's some people that set up events,” Feng said. “We can celebrate together — all different races. It doesn't matter where you're from, you can still celebrate the same holiday.”

Reach Amber Perry at 770-847-8334. Follow her on Twitter @ambermarieperry