Museum of Fine Arts Boston hosts first Lunar New Year celebration since 2020

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Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy performing at MFA. Courtesy of Abigail Lee.

By Abigail Lee, Magazine Editor

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston brought back their Lunar New Year celebration with a COVID-cautious approach. 

The annual tradition at the institution was reinstated Feb. 5 in a reduced manner to ensure social distancing. Long-time partner Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy, typically one of several performing groups, presented a Chinese lion dance to an encircled crowd. 

“We’re just really happy that we finally can come back from the pandemic and perform in person again,” said Mai Du, an instructor at Wah Lum. 

Most years, the MFA has multiple groups presenting the lion dance as well as Vietnamese performers with opportunities for visitors to try on Korean hanboks. The MFA was unable to hold a Lunar New Year celebration in 2021 due to the pandemic, but worked to create a safer event this year.

“It’s this interesting moment to think back on because I remember this room full of thousands of people,” said Kristen Hoskins, Director of Lectures, Courses, and Community Celebrations.

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Wah Lum performed the dance three times during the day. Dancers donned vibrant lion costumes while musicians played drums, cymbals, and a gong. The performance moved from the main courtyard to the visitor center and rotunda in order to allow social distancing. 

Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy performing at MFA. Courtesy of Abigail Lee.

“We are trying to keep safety in mind no matter what we do,” said Hoskins.

In Chinese culture, lions are spiritual and blessed animals that travel down from the mountains to dispel evil energy in the areas they visit. 

“With the music, it’s loud and just claiming presence, claiming power, scaring away anything bad,” said Du. 

Wah Lum had to navigate COVID-related concerns during their return to MFA, such as determining availability of members and making sure they felt comfortable performing in front of crowds. Nonetheless, the return has been a positive one. 

“Our team has lots of young members,” said Du. “They love being able to come to the MFA and see that their culture, heritage, and the biggest holiday of the year is embraced, celebrated, and respected in such a prestigious, large institution.” 

In addition, the MFA passed out art kits to create Chinese dragon shadow puppets and encouraged visitors to browse the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese art collections. The Weng Family Collection of Chinese Painting: Travel and Home, which leaves Mar. 7, was also highlighted.

Yaen Chen, a senior at Northeastern University, expressed her appreciation for the celebration. As someone who celebrated Lunar New Year at home in Southern California, she was glad to see the MFA spotlight this cultural tradition. 

“It’s just really nice to see, especially because Boston is primarily white and has a very large white population,” said Chen. 

Northeastern first-year Diya Sethi emphasized that MFA’s institutional power made this gesture meaningful. 

“It’s super important for spaces that are supposed to be about culture and celebrating diversity, especially museums that have such an intense history of sometimes stealing work from other cultures,” said Sethi. “I think it’s super important that they do events like this to kind of give back to people too.”