Galloping Forward: Destin observes Chinese New Year

Savannah Chastain | The Log
Koko Chen of Fujian China shared that in her hometown when you are born you are pronounced one year old. If the Chinese New Year falls the day after your birth, you will be pronounced two years old. Therefore, in China, Chen is considered two years older than she is in the U.S.A.

The Chinese Year of the Horse has arrived with few to herald it here in Destin.

Following the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year began Jan. 31 this year, as traditionally the first day of the month falls on the darkest day. Koko Chen, a Chinese native and three-year Destin transplant, gave The Log the rundown of traditional festivities.

"First day you cannot do anything — that's traditional China New Year," she said.

She explained that in China most businesses close to allow for celebrations, and the New Year period carries through the 15th day of the month.

"We have a lot of food to cook and eat," she said. "Games, party, food, more a thing to do with the whole family." 

This year, her family plans to keep their restaurant, China One, open as the holiday does not garner such celebration here in the United States — especially in Destin where, according to the 2010 census, the Asian demographic is only 2.1 percent of the population.

The Chinese New Year follows a 12-year revolving calendar. Legend holds that Buddha invited all the animals to celebrate Chinese New Year with him, and 12 came. Thus each animal was honored with a year, with character traits to correspond.

Chen is coincidentally born in the Year of the Horse and imparted that some of the characteristics of this year include being hard-working, smart, popular and good with money. 

Students at Destin Elementary School are in-the-know, and have geared up for the Chinese New Year. Music teacher Lisa Baunack leads interactive sessions once a month in a new program SPLASH, which combines the arts with corresponding calendar dates. This month's focus was Chinese New Year.

"They love it. They are so excited. They learned a Chinese song that all the Chinese kids sing at New Year," she said. 

Business owner Gang Wu, of New Dragon Mongolian Grill and Buffet, laments that he misses the big festivities of Chinese New Year in his home country and his adopted country.

"Nobody knows Chinese New Year here," he said. "Many regular customers ask what day is Chinese New Year, and what year it is … I almost forgot this year is horse!"