DENVER — Standing behind the counter in a store filled with excited new customers, Mimi Luong is wrapping lettuce for a tradition about to take place outside her store.
“So this is the tradition that we do where we wrap lettuce for the dragon lion and we put money in it to feed the dragon," she explained. "A lot of people will stand in front of the dragon when he’s chewing up the lettuce so he can spit it at you. And when he spits it at you that means you’re going to have good luck for the whole year."
“We started out as just a small celebration for our customers, and then it slowly organically grew into a huge celebration," she said. “What today means to my family is that we are here to be able to share joy and happiness with the community and let them know about our traditions."
However, it's hard to ignore the tragedy that unfolded near another celebration across the country in southern California.
Saturday night, a gunman killed 10 people at a ballroom dance studio amid Lunar New Year celebrations, and the situation continues to unfold.
Luong learned of the shooting on the news, and that Lunar New Year festivities had been canceled as a result.
She said she then called to request Denver Police officers to help out with security for Sunday's celebrations, adding that they had worked closely with the police department for several years now when it comes to large events.
Despite this, she still hopes the celebrations at the plaza provide a sense of understanding, positivity and resilience.
“To me I feel like no matter what goes on we should still continue to bring joy to everyone in this community, and with everything going on in the world we should continue to host more events to bring more togetherness that makes the community strong," she said. “I think it makes the community stronger when they come together hand in hand."
She said year after year, attendance has grown, which she believes has led to more events happening around the city, including in schools.
“I feel like people want to go out more often and learn about culture," she said.
Sunday was filled with dragon-lion dancing and other festivities, but the Lunar New Year is celebrated for 15 days, into next weekend.
> Video: Learn more about Lunar New Year celebrations around Denver