A tradition from the homeland found its place in the new land Saturday when hundreds turned out for a festive lantern festival where children made sweet rice balls and paper lanterns, both staples of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Thursday is the 15th day of this , and it's Lantern Festival in China and Taiwan. Given the large numbers of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants in Cupertino, Lantern Festival is a notable cultural holiday in the city.
It's also noteworthy that Koreans and Vietnamese celebrate Lunar New Year but don't celebrate their Lantern Festivals on the same day. Korean Lantern Festival is on Buddha's birthday, the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, and the Vietnamese one coincides with Moon Festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. This Thursday is only a Chinese and Taiwanese holiday.
Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants in Cupertino typically don't let children take lanterns out at night for the holiday like those in their homeland. They just quietly celebrate it at home by eating the holiday's quintessential dessert, sweet rice balls.
Sweet rice balls are boiled and served in a bowl of hot water or sugared water. A gourmet chef would sprinkle some dried osmanthus blossoms into the water.
Such sweet rice balls are available at and in Cupertino. They come with different kinds of stuffing, such as sesame paste, azuki bean paste and peanut sauce, in frozen packages.
For years the Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants in Cupertino settled for sweet rice balls alone in their celebrations, but this year—thanks in larger part to Frank Hong—the Lantern Festival that took place at the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara on Saturday brought out the synonymous brightly colored paper lanterns.
Hong is a Cupertino resident, considered to be influential in Silicon Valley's Taiwanese-American community.
As a leader of the Northern California South Bay Taiwanese Association, Hong brought up his idea of organizing a Lantern Festival event, and members of the local nonprofit made it happen.
The event featured a kids' room where children were taught how to make sweet rice balls from scratch, how to make lanterns with colored paper and how to play with certain traditional Taiwanese toys. Its family-friendly nature drew nearly 400 attendees, some of them from quite a distance, such as Susan Pai, who drove her four children from Pleasanton.
"I brought them here to experience Taiwanese culture, to learn about what I did as a kid,” Pai said.
Most other attendees came from nearby cities, including Cupertino. Kuei-Nung Kao and Erica Chien, a married couple of Cupertino, were among numerous parents watching their children play in the kids' room.
Their daughter’s smile as she learned to make a rabbit-shaped paper lantern—for the Year of the Rabbit—told as much as her own remarks.
“This is fun,” said Mia, 5.
"We came to let our children experience Lantern Festival, to feel what it's all about," said Chien, holding the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Leia.
It was precisely Hong's goal: Educate American-born Taiwanese children about Lantern Festival by putting on this event.
"I hope this exposes second-generation Taiwanese-Americans to Taiwanese culture, and it gives them a happy memory of their childhood," Hong said.
The Lantern Festival event was not all about children—kid-free adults had lunch and watched live dance performances as well as slide shows about Lantern Festival traditions in a large lounge next to the kids' room. The buffet lunch included, of course, sweet rice balls for dessert.
In attendance at Hong’s table was the American-born Chinese Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong, who was getting a Lantern Festival education of his own.
"I'm very happy to be here celebrating Lantern Festival with Taiwanese-Americans. It's important to learn about Taiwanese culture, as there's a huge Taiwanese community, not only in Cupertino but also in the entire Santa Clara County."