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Local News

Lantern Festival returns to Ukiah

A black and gold traditional Chinese lion holds a red scarf in its mouth as musicians beat gongs and cymbals.

The final day of Lunar New Year celebrations coincided with the 115th birthday of Mendocino County's own Edie Ceccarelli.

New year’s blessings typically include wishes for a long life. Sunday, the last day of the lunar new year celebrations, coincided with the 115th birthday of Edie Ceccarelli, the third oldest person in the world.

At Alex Thomas Plaza in Ukiah, the Lantern Festival was back, after three years’ pandemic hiatus. Instilling Goodness Elementary and Developing Virtue Secondary Schools from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas offered lion and dragon dances, music, art and food for the public.

The festivities opened at noon, under the pavilion as a sporadic downpour soaked the streets. To the accompaniment of gongs and cymbals, a black and gold lion opened a scroll announcing the Year of the Water Rabbit, worked up the courage to leap onto a table, and uncovered a plate of treats, which it flung into the crowd.

Teacher H.T. coordinates the dance groups for the boys’ school. He took a quick break between acts to explain the lion dance, as students dashed through the rain to put away their costumes and set up for the Chinese orchestra performance. The celebration opens with a lion dance because, “Once upon a time, during harvest time,” the farmers came out to find that all their crops had disappeared. So one day, they decided to use gongs and cymbals to scare away whatever had been destroying the crops. The lion dance is something like a spring cleaning ritual, to scare away whatever evil thing that might have bad designs on the crop. “So that’s why, every Lunar New Year, we start with the lion dance,” he concluded.

There was another kind of dancing, too. At a long table in what little sunlight there was, Dale, who teaches Chinese at the elementary and secondary schools, was guiding children through what she calls “a dance on the paper.” Calligraphy, she explained, “needs a lot of practice. But the process is very attractive to me. It’s a different kind of cultivation…It’s good training, to train your focus.”

Dale’s focus never wavered, as the orchestra struck up a tune and the rain crashed down sideways. And after years of pandemic, a little rainstorm wasn’t dampening H.T.’s spirits.

“I’m excited for the kids,” he reflected. “Because they’ve got something to do.” The last three years have been hard, but as he watched the first-year students take their places for their performance, he predicted that, “Now, we’ll be able to get them coming back. You see how they’re working slowly up. And I’m hoping next year and the following year, we’ll get better and better.”

Up the hill in Willits, Edie Ceccarelli, who’s seen more new years than almost everyone who’s ever lived, was being honored with a drive-by birthday parade. Lauren Schmitt from KMUD news talked with Evelyn Persico, a relative and trustee of the super-centenarian, which is what gerontologists call people over 110.

“She was born at home in 1908,” Persico related. “I can hardly put it into words, what she’s experienced. Her father was a very hard-working man...there were four girls and three boys in the family, and they lived thorough times that were nose to the grindstone, so to speak. He came to the United States from Italy, and he ended up here in Willits working for the railroads. The railroads were just making the racks from the city to Eureka. What they experienced is going back to the Model T Ford to now, to the space age.

Edie was always a very active person…she and her siblings would walk out to the valley here and dig up potatoes for 50 cents a day…her life has been amazingly healthy.” Persico related the famous Ceccarelli tip for a long life: “A glass of wine with dinner, and stay out of other people’s business, just mind your own business, and play. She had a great philosophy…the thing that’s been hard for Edie is that she’s the survivor. Her family, her brothers and sisters, are gone. Her daughter and three granddaughters are gone, and her son-in-law just passed away,” a few years ago. “She’s the sole survivor. And that is very hard. That’s why she says, why am I still here? I just say, well, God’s not ready for you yet. It’s hard to wrap your head around it, but spending so many years with her now, I feel like God has given me a piece of what he gave to her, because I have loved doing for her, and loving her, and knowing her, and just being a part of her life.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.