Lion Dancers, photo courtesy of Dulles Expo Tet Celebration
Some of this is a repeat of my 2015 post, but I have updated it to refer to 2016 events and added more here and there.
As I write this I have 30 events listed on my Lunar New Year events page, and there are more I know about that I’m waiting for additional information.
If your kids are young or you have never been to a Lunar New Year/ Chinese New Year event and you want to dip your toes in…, I suggest going to one of the library events (free) or Port Discovery (paid). One nice thing about the library events is they are very intimate and everyone is near the action because the rooms are just not that big.
All library events are free, but sadly not all library events are created equal. I have been to many of the Montgomery County Library events over the years. The best ones are the ones that say that a Chinese School or Youth Group will be performing. The ones put on at the library with just librarians just are not the same and do not include a real performance. So if you are only going to go to one performance, skip the ones which do not include students from a Chinese club or school. I have made bold the library programs which promise student and youth performances.
Fairfax County Libraries are doing more programs this year. I have not been to a FxCo Library program, but just because it says “Lunar New Year with Dragon Dance and other fun activities”, do not assume that there will be a performance. It could be a librarian with a homemade dragon costume that the children participate in. I’m sure it will be a fun program, but if you really want to see a Lion Dance or Dragon Dance performance by students, this may not be the place to see it. Call to find out.
The library programs meet in meeting rooms at the library, but sometimes the performance might move around the library into the stacks. There is usually good seating in chairs, but get there early to snag a seat.
Port Discovery, a children’s museum in Baltimore, would also be a good place to dip your toes into Chinese New Year. I have not been, as there are so many other options. Of course the celebration at Port Discovery (Feb 6) is free with your paid admission to the children’s museum. This would be a good place to go if you were already planning to do to Port Discovery and participating in the events while you are there. The line up of things to do, looks impressive for young children.
Big Spaces and Excellent Performances (Malls)
Both Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax and Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, work with Chinese communities and schools to put on some excellent performances. The space is big and the performances are varied and excellent. It might be a little overwhelming for very young children and not all the performances are exactly related to Lunar New Year. There are dancers and demonstrations from many different Asian communities. When I went to Fair Oaks one year, seating is on the ground or standing on the upper levels to watch below. So if comfort is one of your must haves, this is probably not the best choice. But at the same time, I saw the best Dragon dance I’ve ever seen at the mall.
Big Museums and Performance areas in DC
The Kennedy Center is doing 5 different events for Lunar New Year. The Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Textile Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art are all doing Chinese New Year Family programs. In fact all three museums contacted me this year to help promote their programs.
Sadly I have not been to any of these, although Kennedy Center and the Textile Museum are new to my list this year. Being that these are well-funded museums, I suspect they do a very good job. I don’t know if there will be chairs to watch performances. And if that is something you crave, I would call and find out. All of these family events are free. There is one paid event at the Kennedy Center.
The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore (Feb 7) does a family day to celebrate Chinese New Year. I would equate this to the Smithsonian events. It is a 3-hour event which includes demonstrations from Chinese schools.
The Best Seats in the House
There are two events, only one of which I have been to, take place in auditoriums. One is the Chinese New Year Celebration at Luther Jackson Middle School (Feb 6) , sponsored by the Asian Service Center. The other one is at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater in Rockville (Feb 13). In both cases, you have nice places to sit (in auditoriums) and excellent student performances. I have been to the one at Luther Jackson and in addition to performances, there is food and vendors and lots of people to talk to. I believe the same is true of the Rockville event.
The Real Deal
Serving Food at Tet, photo courtesy of Tet Celebration at Dulles Expo
Vietnamese celebrate Lunar New Year and it is called Tet. They have celebrations which are mostly meant for other Vietnamese but welcome all. I’ve seen our Montgomery County county executive speak at the Northwood Tet Festival (Jan 30). There are a couple in Northern Virginia, but it is harder to get the information, since they don’t have websites or facebook pages. I’m pretty sure that there is one at JEB Stuart HS on Feb 6, which is scout troops and the Vietnamese Community celebrating and another one on Feb 7, (same place). These festivals are the real deal. But they are crowded and loud. And some times they are speaking only in Vietnamese. But it is the place to buy an ao dai for your child or get authentic Vietnamese food. Or buy an orange tree or other Tet decorations. Or to see and be seen in the Vietnamese Community. I have been to a few, but my child only wants to go if we are meeting friends there. Usually it costs a couple dollars to get in, but if you are wearing traditional clothing, you get in free.
There is a Tet Celebration at Dulles Expo Center. (Jan 30, 31) The website says they expect to attract up to 30,000 people. It goes on for two days, all day, out in Dulles. It must be something. I’d like to hear about it, but don’t think I can get out that far when on the same day there is a Tet Festival in my neighborhood. This would be an excellent event to get to if you want the real cultural experience. I suspect they will have food, vendors and performances galore. This one costs a few dollars to get in.
The Tet Celebration at Eden Center is also the real deal. I have not heard about the date and time yet, but it takes place at the Eden Center, a shopping center in Falls Church, VA with mostly Vietnamese stores. Much of what happens is in the parking lot. There are speeches and Lion Dances and firecrackers (loud and smokey). The way to do this it to meet some friends there and go have lunch in one of the restaurants in the mall. Then perhaps the Lion Dancers will come parade through the restaurant when you are eating. This happened to us and it is the real Vietnamese Tet experience. This is not the best event for small children, due to the noise and smoke of the firecrackers that happens around the Lion Dances which take place outdoor. Of course there are not (real) firecrackers inside, but you can buy the fake firecracker decorations there.
Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown (DC)
The Chinese New Year Parade takes place Sunday Feb 14, 2016, according to the calendar of the Chinese Youth Club, which is performing there. Chinatown is only two blocks, but they put on a parade every year. My family has been twice. We went when the weather was above 4o ° F. I timed the parade as being 18 minutes from start to finish one year. But it is exciting to go to a parade. Go early and eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. There are still a few left. They do fireworks afterward, but we have never stayed for it.
You want to stand near the beginning of the parade and away from the Metro stations for the best viewing location. I will update this when I get more information.
Blackrock Center for the Arts
This Lunar New Year Celebration (Feb 6) is new to me. I’m not sure if they have done this before, but I heard about it in conjunction with the Germantown Library. Blackrock Arts Center is walkable to Germantown Library and you can go to storytime at the library and head on over to Blackrock.
So there are way too many events for any one person or family to get to them all. In 2016, Lunar New Year is on February 8, which means traditionally people celebrate on the evening before (February 7). But the DC area celebrates for an entire month to get all of these events in. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey!