This time of year, sentiment tugs insistently on her heart — and suddenly she finds herself 7,000 miles away in her daydreams.

Can you blame Hua Ling for feeling homesick for her native China on the occasion of her country’s biggest celebration?

“It definitely is emotional for many people and a time for missing home,” said Ling, a native of the city of Xi’an. “And the longer I am away, the emotion seems to get stronger and stronger.”

Such are the stirrings from the annual Columbus Chinese Association’s Chinese New Year Gala from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Southside Elementary School. The gathering, which has attracted as many as 700 people in past years, is limited to 450 this year because it had to be moved from the burned-out Columbus North High School auditorium to the much-smaller Southside.

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In China, the new year revelry stretches 15 days. Locally, just the one afternoon becomes a time of sharing the nation’s culture via a traditional dinner and a two-hour entertainment extravaganza from music to dance to skits.

And of course, a lion dance, which people move in spirited fashion across the stage in colorful costumes made to be like the king of the jungle.

“This is a good time for us to share a lot of our identity with everyone,” said Hui Lui, president of the Columbus Chinese Association.

Plus, the event always includes culture beyond China “because there are people attending from the whole community,” Lui said.

Two acts from last year’s Columbus Got Talent competition will perform: Ghangra, a dance group composed of local residents from India; and singer Donnell Sallard performing the Kool and the Gang classic hit “Celebration.”

“It’s like we are hosting a big party, and we call other groups and other cultures in Columbus and we ask, ‘Can you come and help us celebrate?'” Lui said.

In the past, the event has been varied enough to spotlight everything from traditional Chinese dance to a Michael Jackson moonwalk number that generated big applause. Call it performance stir fry, with a bit of sizzle.

“We see this as a good time to celebrate our hope, too,” Lui said.

The eight-member association board plans the event that includes a meal. This year’s dinner menu features such entrees as chicken, shrimp, duck, pork rib and sweet rice ball soup, according to organizers.

But Lui said he believes the gathering consists of more than music or food.

“The most critical part for me is the whole, general environment — the overall atmosphere and just the joy of everyone being together,” he said.

If you go

What: Columbus Chinese Association’s Chinese New Year Gala, featuring music, dance, food and other elements.

When: Saturday. Performances from 3 to 5 p.m. Dinner from 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Southside Elementary School, 1320 W. County Road 200S.

Tickets: $10 for the performance and $10 for the dinner. The cost for children younger than 5 is $5 for the combination.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.