Chinese New Year was celebrated in a blaze of colour and music at Priory Meadow shopping centre.
There was a roar of excitement as students from Buckswood School launched the event on Sunday with a traditional Lion and Dragon Dance, followed by a martial arts display by students from 1066 Wing Chun School.
The event, organised by the Hastings Chinese Association, also saw a thrilling acrobatics display performed by the Buckswood pupils, and a selection of Chinese folk dances including an umbrella dance and tea picking dance, yoga displays, and a rap show.
The biggest cheers of the day were for a fun chopstick challenge, in which have-a-go competitors tried to beat the world record for eating the most M&Ms or Smarties using chopsticks in one minute.
Chairman of the Hastings Chinese Association, acupuncturist Ke Xia Xu, said this year’s celebrations were one of the best ever, with an even larger crowd than last year.
Among those who took part in the Chopstick Challenge was ten-year-old Caden Crouch, of Alexandra Park, Hastings, who took pride in having picked up four of the elusive chocolate treats.
“It was really hard, and it was the first time I had used chopsticks, but I’m pleased I managed to pick up more sweets than my friends,” said the young pupil of Salehurst C of E School.
He was at the event with his dad, Rupert Crouch, who also had an enjoyable time taking in the vivid costumes, music and dancing which kept the crowds enthralled.
Caden said: “It was great, really really great. I was so excited and everyone was having a fantastic time. During the chopstick challenge there were even people watching us through the windows of the nearby H&M store and cheering us on.”
Local mum Kim Geiger, who attended the celebrations with her family and friends, said the day was ‘unbelievable’.
“Really it’s been so good, we came here specially because we knew this was on and we’re so glad we did, we all said we’d hate to have missed it. The entertainment has been wonderful and there was such a good family atmosphere, with everyone having loads of fun,” said Kim.
Her daughter, Sky, also took part in the chopstick challenge which she said was ‘awesome’.
Kim laughed: “She’s never used chopsticks before so it really was challenging, but she loved it even though they didn’t get anywhere near the record.”
Sky’s brothers, Tyler, aged three and Bivi, two, cheered her on as she managed to pick up three sweets with the chopsticks.
Kim said: “The boys loved all the music and dancing too. It was magical. Every time the lion came near Tyler he started clapping. He was smiling so much it was fabulous to watch, and Bivi wanted to get up and have a go at the dancing too.”
Visitors also got the chance to have a go at writing their name in Chinese. Fortune cookies were handed out to the crowd in between performances, and Chinese New Year souvenirs such as paper dragons were also on sale.
Ke Xia Xu, who is known to her English friends as Sue, said: “People were keen to see all that was going on and there was a brilliant fun atmosphere all day.
“All the entertainers worked really hard and should be congratulated they did so well.
“The students from Buckswood School who performed the acrobatic show and the Lion and Dragon Dance were amazing and the umbrella dance was beautiful, the acrobats hypnotic and the Chinese youth dancers superb.
“We’re so grateful to Priory Meadow management for letting us hold the celebrations at the shopping centre. It’s the perfect venue.”
Sue added: “No one actually broke the chopstick challenge record, but there was certainly some of the loudest laughter to be heard in the world as people had a go.”
Sue said: “It was nice to see all the hard work that everyone had put in so widely appreciated.
“The audience was so supportive of us and the feedback throughout the day was really positive. We gave fortune cookies out to the crowds so here’s hoping they bring everyone nothing but good luck throughout the Year of the Rooster!”
Priory Meadow Shopping Centre Manager, Stacey Bell, said the centre saw positive footfall for the weekend’s celebrations, with hundreds of people gathering to watch the shows.
She said: “This is a lovely event and a favourite with everyone who works and shops at Priory Meadow.
“It has such a feel good factor and this year that was even more prominent than ever. The fun vibe was in the air all day and the performers deserve the highest praise.
“We can’t thank them enough for all their efforts in putting on such an impressive show.”
“Hastings now has a well-documented reputation for the many varied and exciting events it puts on every year, many of which reflect the increasing cultural diversity of the town. The Chinese celebration of New Year is now firmly on this calendar” said Cllr Peter Chowney, who opened the programme of festivities.
“The Hastings Chinese Association work very hard to organise this event with fantastic traditional performances and displays which all demonstrate the rich culture our town has to offer.
“It was a pleasure to join the Chinese community and share their special celebrations in this way. We have such a vibrant multicultural population - one Hastings, many voices and we are very pleased to support it.”
For details of retailers, opening times and exciting events planned at Priory Meadow Shopping Centre please visit: www.priorymeadow.com.
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