The biggest, happiest celebration in the Chinese cultural calendar is set to begin Jan. 25 and end Feb. 8. Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden plans to extend festivities by one extra day, through Feb. 9, just to make sure everybody can get a taste of the color, fun and magic of Chinese New Year.
“It’s a very huge deal, and we celebrate for 15 whole days,” said Maggie Lim, cultural program manager. “It’s very auspicious for Chinese. We are heralding the springtime and making wishes for a happy, positive new year.”
That year is keyed to lunar cycles that don’t line up with our western, 365-day year — which is why the dates of Chinese New Year shift are always shifting.
One local group will travel to Portland to add a little authentic culture to the Lan Su festivities: the Vancouver Jasmine Dance Troupe, performing traditional folk dances at 2 p.m. Jan. 26.
“This troupe is made up of professional working mothers from all walks of life: doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, and business owners,” Vancouver Jasmine artistic director Jian Chen wrote in an email. “Out of love for Chinese culture, we have been actively performing the Chinese folk dances for the Chinese and Portland community for the past 10 years. We are very proud to be able to present new programs every year.”
The Vancouver Jasmine performance is one part of a busy schedule of festivities beginning 10 a.m. Jan. 25. First-day visitors will receive red envelopes, which they can stuff with money and pass along, from elder to younger, as a way of sharing good fortune — that’s the Chinese tradition, Lim said.
Every day of the festival starts with a colorful exercise in wishing good things for the future, with visitors tossing red ribbons up into the on-site Chinese Wishing Tree and hoping their wishes will stick.
Festivities will include calligraphy and painting demonstrations, family craft activities, martial arts showcases, cultural performances and lots of dances. An opening Portland Chinatown neighborhood parade will launch nearby at 11 a.m. Jan. 25 and stop by Lan Su Garden at 11:15 a.m.
Visit lansugarden.org to check out the complete schedule, which is busiest on the weekends of Jan. 25-26, Feb. 1-2 and Feb. 8-9, but has activities and demonstrations scheduled daily. Four special Lantern Viewing evening programs, featuring lighted processions, dance teams and tea ceremonies in the Teahouse, are set for 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 6 through 9.
Local lanterns, local life
If you’re interested in sampling a signature Chinese New Year tradition closer to home, try the free Lantern Festival set for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at Franklin Elementary School, home of a Mandarin language immersion program.
“Every year the students (of Franklin Elementary, Jason Lee Middle School and Columbia River High School) make over 400 paper lanterns” out of recycled materials, said parent Alison Berkey, who launched the idea five years ago. The lanterns are lit and hung up in the school’s outdoor, covered play area — and so are hundreds of riddles in both Mandarin and English, Berkey said.
“This is a spectacular sight, a real visual treat,” Berkey said, and “a great way to get out and enjoy the full moon on a crisp winter night.” Local band Don’t Feed the Bears will provide live music, Berkey added, and there’ll be hot cocoa too.
“Our school and community have really come to love and cherish this tradition,” Berkey said. “Some of the Mandarin teachers have remarked that they feel like they are back home when they attend this event.”
“The Chinese New Year is like Christmas to western society,” said Liying Zheng of the Vancouver Chinese Association (which held its annual Chinese dance gala early this year, on Jan. 18, because “that fit most people’s schedules,” she said).
“In Chinese culture we like to gather the family, and the more generations the better,” Zheng said. “Here in America, we are far from our families back in China because of work and life here. We still miss our traditional Chinese New Year, that’s why we do a big gathering and a party.
“All the community comes together as one big family to celebrate together. We do this so everyone has a huge, big family feeling.”