Sunday February 10, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Wintry weather dominated talk in the Berkshires on Saturday, but but those in the county’s small Asian community were celebrating an important holiday, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year.

Throughout her entire life, Mo Zhang, a language fellow at Williams College, has been accustomed to a grand celebration enjoyed in the company of family around this time featuring fireworks and a sea of decorative red lanterns.

This year, however, she welcomed the Year of the Snake in the Berkshires at a discreet gathering of Chinese faculty members at Williams College on Saturday.

When midnight struck, they started by eating boiled dumplings, she said.

"This is my first time not celebrating with my family," said Zhang prior to Saturday’s event. She admitted to being "quite sad" that she wouldn’t be with them on the important holiday.

Four generations removed from when her Chinese great grandfather came to California, Great Barrington resident Sharon Gregory said the lack of an Asian-American community won’t keep her from hosting an Chinese-style potluck today. She invites a group of friends on many years.

The butchers at Guido’s knew she’d be asking for the largest possible fresh duck.

"It’s a reminder of your roots," said Gregory about the celebration. "However people achieve that is important. I can do it with non-Chinese people, which I have done a great deal of because they honor Chinese culture, heritage, and holidays."

The Asian population in the Berkshires is a minuscule 1.6 percent, according to the 2010 census, but the Lunar New Year will be celebrated locally with specially prepared meals and, most importantly, in the company of family and friends.

The Lunar New Year celebrating normally begins the day before and continues for 15 days until the next full moon appears.

"It’s considered the beginning of moving into spring," Williams College Associate Professor Christopher Nugent said. "The harvest was a while ago" and people are enjoying what remains, he said.

Gregory said in addition to the potluck, she’ll also hold a celebration with parents with adopted Chinese children.

Gregory finds the time to make a special drive outside of Berkshire County to get the ingredients she needs and she’ll spend extra time in the kitchen to prepare food that can range from spare rib dishes to special noodles to steamed fish.

And, of course, as she does every year, she’ll find time to call family members.

In year’s past, Thang Huynh, who owns Spice Dragon in Pittsfield, would commute to New York or Boston to participate in larger celebrations.

But this year it will be a special meal with his family members who immigrated from Vietnam after the Vietnam War.

"It’s a good time to celebrate and be thankful," Huynh said.

Back in China, Zhang said there will be families celebrating the new year by going to temple and wearing new clothes. Children will eagerly receive small red envelopes with money. There are superstitions that includes not throwing away anything because that can be equated to throwing away money.

Americans are well into 2013, but Zhang said that she’s still waiting until Sunday to embrace the new year.

"In my mind it’s like still 2012 to me, sort of."