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Westminster Chapel celebrates “Year of the Snake” at Lunar New Year celebration
The scene in the gym at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue isn’t what you might expect on a Saturday night.
Instead of fluorescent lights beaming down from above, there’s a soft red glow. Paper lanterns in shades of crimson and gold fall from the ceiling, and the hardwood floors aren’t being used for sport. Rather, they’re lined with tables, draped in red and full of people celebrating the Lunar New Year.
The idea for a Lunar New Year celebration came about when Sylvia Ramquist, co-producer of the celebration, was living in Japan with her family several years ago.
“I woke up on Christmas morning and realized nobody cared it was Christmas,” Ramquist said.
Upon returning to the states, Ramquist remembered this longing feeling. Prompted by the fact that six families from the church recently adopted children from China, Ramquist decided she didn’t want people growing up on the Eastside to feel the same way.
“More people celebrate [the Lunar New Year], per capita in the United States, than any other holiday – even Christmas,” Ramquist said.
Built around the idea of embracing the diversity of the Eastside – and teaching the adopted children about their heritage - the first celebration was expected to bring 150 people to the chapel. When 300 people showed up – and they ran out of food – Ramquist knew they were on to something hot.
“We had scratched an itch,” Ramquist said.
Ten years later, the celebration has become one of the largest, most important events put on by the church. Drawing approximately 2000 people, this year’s festival, which celebrated the Year of the Snake, featured cultural performances, arts and crafts and presentations by local nonprofit organizations – including the American Red Cross and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bellevue.
“This event isn’t about making money,” Ramquist said. “It’s about serving each other.”
Jenny Rueb, who was in charge of booking the Community Life Center Stage this year said she decided to volunteer for the celebration after hearing about it’s inception from Ramquist.
“That resonated with me,” said Rueb, who has been attending Westminster Chapel for six years. This was her second year working as a volunteer.
Citing the diverse population in Bellevue, Reub said she loves how the festival offers people from all walks of life the opportunity to celebrate and embrace different cultures.
“The food is also really good,” she adds.
A key component of the celebration each year is the live performances, which include dance and Martial Arts demonstrations rooted in a variety of Asian cultures.
This year, as in years past, students from Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan Center performed Tai Chi on the Community Life Center Stage. Taught by Master Yang Jun - a sixth generation descendent of the Yang family – the students presented an abridged version of the Yang style Hand Form.
“This is a very diverse, enriching event,” said Nancy Lucero, who works as assistant manager to Jun at the center. She has been studying the art, under Jun’s guidance, for 12 years.
The Onken and Puchalski families have also made attending the celebration an annual tradition. The two families first met while on a plane to China seven years ago, where they were headed to adopt children. They’ve remained friends ever since.
“It’s a great learning experience for our children,” Kurt Onken said.
He cites the finale performance at the end of the night - an elaborate production featuring traditional costumes and instruments - as the highlight of the festivities.
For his 7-year-old daughter, Lily, it’s the arts and crafts.
“I like making the snakes,” she said.
With three floors of activities to participate in, history to learn and traditions to make, there's a lot to celebrate.