Students celebrate Chinese culture |

Students celebrate Chinese culture

by Scott Neuffer

Students of Gardnerville Elementary School ushered in the Year of the Rabbit on Thursday even though the Chinese New Year doesn’t officially start until Feb. 3.

Nonetheless, Sonia Carlson, a Gardnerville resident who grew up in southern China and now teaches dance and culture, coordinated an assembly with the help of several students and teachers to celebrate the new year and share the color, elegance and passion of Chinese tradition.

“Xin Nian Kuai Le,” Carlson first recited with students. “Happy New Year!”

She then asked the audience what Chinese children normally do on New Year’s Day.

“They pay respect to the elders in their family and visit their dear teachers,” she answered.

Carlson said teachers are highly respected in China.

“Teachers have been highly respected in China since ancient times because they give you knowledge and guidance, and build the educational foundation for your future,” she said.

To honor those teachers present at the assembly, Carlson called them to the front of the room.

“Please put your hands behind your back and give your teachers a bow,” she told students.

Afterwards, sixth-grader Marc Lobato, 11, was called upon to grind ink for calligraphy.

“Really, calligraphy is my favorite,” Marc said, dressed in a pearly-blue traditional suit.

With quick, deft strokes of a brush, Carlson painted the Chinese character for Spring: Chun. She said clean, pointed lines indicate strength.

“Handwriting represents character,” she said. “Make sure when you do your homework, that you do it well. Always turn in your best homework, your best writing.”

More than once, Carlson made a point of involving audience members in the demonstrations.

“I want student involvement this year,” she said. “The sixth grade is studying ancient China, and this ties in with that curriculum. I just want to bring diversity into school education.”

To that effect, students and teachers were invited to dance with manifold fans, to “kick the feathers” (Chinese hacky sack), and twirl dainty umbrellas of the Orient.

Audience participation, which often provoked laughter, was offset by the serious and hushed performance of Carlson herself.

Performing a traditional dance of the Dai people, Carlson and 13-year-old daughter Ingrid were swan-like, demure and graceful. At the end of the assembly, mother and daughter teamed up again for the Lion Dance. Although it’s the Year of the Rabbit, it was a white lion (Ingrid) who stalked a lissome dancer (Sonia) across the bow of the audience.

“New Year’s is a joyous occasion for all Chinese people,” Carlson said.

Fourth-grader Katie Johnson, 9, attended the assembly wearing a silky blue robe and bespangled headband.

“I just wanted to,” she said.

When asked about her favorite aspect of Chinese culture, there was little hesitation:

“The costumes!”


According to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, people born in the Year of the Rabbit (1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999) are articulate, talented and ambitious. In the Chinese calendar, 2011 is year 4708.