By MIRANDA PRESCOTT, The Gadsden Times
GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) – The start of the Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays of the year for those of Asian descent. An official of the Miami University’s Confucius Institute described it on the school’s website as like “combining Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl for Americans.”
The event took place on Feb. 1 this year, and MeiLeigh Mintz, a fifth-grader at John S. Jones Elementary School, decided to share her Chinese New Year traditions for the holiday with her classmates.
MeiLeigh, who was adopted as an 11-month-old from China, talked with each of them about the traditional tale of the Nian monster, which is known for annually attacking villages and destroying their crops.
The legend says the people would gather to scare the monster off with bright lights and loud noises to protect themselves for another year.
MeiLeigh wore a red dress, as red is the color that traditionally scares the Nian monster the most.
“Normally, what I’m wearing would be considered nice clothes that you would wear for weddings and holidays,” she said, describing her outfit. “So typically, I would wear this for the Autumn Moon Festival and for Chinese New Year.”
MeiLeigh told her classmates that each year is signified by a specific animal in the Chinese zodiac. For 2022, this animal is the tiger.
“If you were born in 2010, that was the last Year of the Tiger, which means that this year is considered your lucky year,” she said.
MeiLeigh’s mother, Kim Mintz, added, “A lot of the things they celebrate is based on legends. They celebrate it in a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas, where they bring relatives together and the stores will stay closed for two weeks. ”
As part of the discussion held by the Mintz family, each class was given a small bag of candy imported from China with different fruit flavors, such as guava and lychee fruit.
However, MeiLeigh’s class received the biggest transformation of all; Their classroom was decorated with traditional red paper lanterns, gold and red streamers and door decorations to signify the holiday.
The class got to try traditional Chinese foods from local Asian markets, such as noodles and dumplings. The Mintz family also brought in Chinese versions of snacks, such as tomato-flavored potato chips and the Chinese version of Cheetos.
“The adults will also give out red envelopes to children, which MeiLeigh likes to do as well,” said Kim. “We do not have money in them, but this year we have candy and she’ll share those with her classmates.”
The grand finale of the day’s festivities came in the form of a fireworks show for the fifth grade, courtesy of the Mintz family. MeiLeigh’s father, Brian Mintz, shot off several different fireworks that could be enjoyed during the day, which made them a bit noisier than fireworks used at night.
While fireworks typically are shot off in Chinese culture as part of holidays and joyous occasions such as weddings, the Mintz family also talked about a different use of them that possibly led them to having MeiLeigh in their family.
“In China, they use them for any kind of celebrations, like store openings and weddings,” said Kim, “However, because of the former One Child Policy in China, many families would have to set them off to bring attention to a child. they would have to leave behind. When these firecrackers are lit, it brings a lot of attention so the locals will know where to find the baby that’s been left. “
While Kim believes it is likely the fireworks method was used to bring attention to the orphanage about MeiLeigh, she does not know for sure because of the laws and restrictions that were in place.
“Not every child is left because the parents did not want them,” she said. “We do not know MeiLeigh’s story, because the history is not left with the Chinese adoptees and we’re not sure why she was left. We definitely think it was a positive, because we ended up with her. ”
She said it took a five-year waiting period to bring a child home. There were different holdups, plus a delay with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, she was glad the process brought her MeiLeigh.
“We ended up getting her in 2011 right before she turned a year old,” she said.
Clark had personal knowledge of the Mintzes’ journey; Kim was employed by the Etowah County Board of Education before MeiLeigh was adopted.
“MeiLeigh’s mom used to work as our technology coordinator, but she is now retired,” she said. “It had just become so well known that they were going on this journey to bring their child home and it was a long time to wait. I stuck a note onto my computer to remind myself to pray for her. ”
Not only does the family celebrate the Lunar New Year with their daughter, but they also celebrate other holidays, such as the Autumn Moon Festival in October.
“We’re able to also share these holidays with her classmates by sending things such as Moon Pies, even though the holiday is celebrated with moon cakes traditionally,” she said. “They’ve had a chance to hear about why they celebrate these things in China.”
Clark said John Jones tries to encourage its students to learn about other cultures.
“We have an EL teacher that comes in and helps out, and they work to help students create books about their culture that the Rainbow City Library had on display so you could check them out,” she said. “We’ve also had former students from Nepal that were here when an earthquake hit the country several years ago, so we did a coin drive called Nickels for Nepal to raise money and help.”
Along with teaching people about her culture, MeiLeigh works to give back to charities such as Operation Christmas Child.
“I’ve always wanted to donate because I know they do not have much in the orphanage, we just did not know where to donate,” MeiLeigh said. “Eventually, we found Operation Christmas Child and we talked to people in charge to start a fundraiser to design and sell shirts.”
Kim added, “That’s really her. She started this with a friend two years ago where we printed T-shirts. They’ve raised close to about $ 3,000 to donate to Operation Christmas Child. She’s got a very kind heart that just comes from within that enjoys helping others. “
The Mintz family hopes to keep MeiLeigh’s interest in her culture alive, saying that “it makes her who she is.”
Kim said, “One of the things we try to do is make sure she is proud of her culture and that she is from China, which is something she can not change. She is perfect the way she is and I want her to be proud of that.
“She also loves America and is proud to be here,” she said, “but I always want her to be proud of where she came from.”
MeiLeigh said, “I like to tell people about my culture because Chinese culture is not as talked about as others are. I’m really grateful for the opportunities I get to share about it. ”
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