An estimated 110 million watched the Super Bowl between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos on Sunday. But the big game was really no match for the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated by a fourth of the planet's population.

Just hours before kickoff, an estimated 550 area Chinese-Americans gathered at Mayo High School to welcome the Year of the Fire Monkey with dancing, singing, comedy skits and feasting. The monkey is a happy creature, known for its curiosity and positivity, and that bodes well for all of us.

Yongwen Wu, an IBM employee and translator, has fond memories of New Year's celebrations while growing up in a province south of Beijing. New Year's always was a grand affair, with families gathering from all over. The young would receive money and new clothes, and the celebrating would last for weeks, beginning days before the New Year and concluding two weeks after it.

"It's kind of like your Christmas with presents and gifts," Wu said. "I miss (those days). Here we have the celebrations but not quite so big."

Sunday's celebration also underscored the degree to which the Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American population has grown Rochester.

Dr. Bingkun Chen, the event's organizer and a Mayo Clinic assistant professor of medicine and neurology, recalled that when he arrived in Rochester 16 years ago, such celebrations could be hosted in people's houses, the community was so small.

Now that population is estimated at more than 1,200, and it has its own Chinese school at Rochester Community and Technical College to keep its culture and linguistic traditions alive and vibrant. There are now 500 Chinese people employed at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Mikel Prieto, a Mayo Clinic transplant surgeon and past medical director of international operations, noted that 90,000 people from outside the U.S. came to Mayo to receive medical care. And of those, the "biggest growth has been from the Chinese," which has tripled in number.

Bingkun said it was only after the invitations for the celebration were sent did people realize that event fell on the same day as Super Bowl Sunday.

"Then some people said, 'you know, that day is the Super Bowl,' but we couldn't change it," Bingkun said. There might be a slight falloff from the 600 people who attended last year, but it would hardly diminish a celebration that now draws people from Eyota, Austin and the Twin Cities and is likely to grow in the years ahead.

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