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Chinese New Year Set To Steep Area in Asian Culture

Chinese New Year 2008 will be celebrated in a big way starting this weekend in Falls Church.

While New Year’s, itself, is officially next Thursday, the incoming “Year of the Rat” will be kicked off with by a gala celebration this Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Luther Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It will culminate on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Eden Center, on the corner of Roosevelt and Wilson Boulevard at Seven Corners, with a traditional Lion Dance at 11 a.m.

Chinese and other Asian cultures are closely linked to the Northern Virginia area. More than 200,000, or about 15 percent, of Northern Virginia residents are of Asian descent, according to the U.S. Census in 2000. Many of them will be taking part in the rich blend of traditions and customs, rooted in a deep history, and observed during the New Year celebration, with Eden Center, a local cultural landmark for the past 20 years with its unique Asian shops and restaurants, serving as a focal point.

Chinese New Year focuses on the remembrance of ancestors, family unity, hospitality, honor, happiness, good luck and wealth in the New Year. 2008 marks the Year of the Rat on the Chinese calendar, one of 12 animal names recycled every 12 years. Legend has it that those born in each animal year have some of that animal’s personality. Rats are said to be the most industrious, hard working and successful, and are often leaders, pioneers and conquerors. Famous people born in the Year of the Rat include George Washington, Shakespeare, Mozart and actors Samuel Jackson and Scarlett Johansson.

Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days until the Lantern Festival, which falls on February 21 this year. This year is also known as “Wu Zhi,” its formal name in the Stem-Branch system; 2008 is year nine in the 60-year naming cycle. The current year is Year 4705 by the Chinese calendar.

Practices for the new year vary depending upon which part of China you are from. Northern China celebrates the New Year with families making boiled dumplings together, symbolic of staying together, warm and full in the New Year. Southern China feasts on sticky rice rolled in balls, with a special stuffing  inside.

“Both in the North and in the South, the theme is the same even though the food may vary,” says Lisa Fan, photographer for the Asian Community Service Center in Vienna. “Harmony and union is what the meal means. One thing you must have at the meal is a whole fish, and some of the fish must be left on the plate to represent savings and prosperity for next year.”

Traditions include wearing new clothes and shoes, hanging red lanterns and banners with words of good fortune around doors — to bring good blessings and ward off evil — and cleaning the house thoroughly before festivities. There is no cleaning during festivities however, as it is thought to sweep away good luck.

Another tradition is using the lotus flower as decoration.

“The lotus flower represents high moral standards. It grows in dirty mud but symbolizes purity and high moral standards,” says Tiny Tang, vice-president of the Asian Community Service Center. “This is a time to fully respect our parents and remember our ancestors. We follow good values which are meaningful for people. It is a reminder of our tradition.”

The entire community is invited to participate in the festivities and experience the magical lure of Asia, its food, music, dance and traditions at the celebrations. The February 2 Chinese New Year Festival all-day event, sponsored by the Asian Community Service Center and the Epoch Times Chinese newspaper, Washington, D.C., will feature colorful live performances of dragon, fairy and lion dances, Chinese cooking demonstrations — with free samples — of fried rice, traditional New Year foods and other favorites, as well as Chinese language, meditation and medicine workshops. Other activities will include Chinese checkers, a ping pong competition, paper crafts, martial arts and much more.

“We want to teach people about Asian culture,” says Mindy Ge, president of the Asian Community Service Center and event organizer. “We want to introduce our 5,000-year essence to American society. More and more people want to learn more about the Chinese. Our first step is this festival.”

Local Northern Virginia artists from Cambodia, China, Korea, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries will demonstrate their traditions and customs for people of all ages.

“We can translate people’s names into Chinese,” says Tang. “We will be teaching many things like how to speak and write Chinese, how to fold paper lotus flowers and how Chinese culture has respect for parents, each other and heaven.”

Tang says all of the children attending the February 2 festival will receive little red envelopes of “lucky money,” which tradition attests will bring good luck. There will be door prize drawings, dances and shows throughout the day.

Local politicians planning to attend include Fairfax County Chairman Gerry Connolly, state Senator Janet Howell, Delegate Dave Marsden and Delegate Kenneth Plum. They will be addressing the crowd in the auditorium at 1 p.m.

“This is a great opportunity to remind the broader community of the importance of the Chinese community,” says Chairman Connolly. “I look forward to this celebration every year.”

“Asian Americans have a significant influence in our community,” says Delegate Plum. “They contribute to our economy, our culture and our wonderful quality of life. I am pleased to join in the New Year Festival celebration.”

Also, attending the New Year celebration will be Siaoyan Zhang, a new Virginia resident.

“I came to the United States three months ago from China,” says Zhang. “My family of four will attend the festival.” She says that she is married to an American and that the festival reminds her of celebrations in her homeland.

“We invite everyone as our guest,” says Tang, event organizer. “Just as in China, we all open our doors and welcome and visit each other.” She says that it is important to pass on this custom to the next generation.

Alan Frank, senior vice-president of the Eden Center, also extends an invitation to the public to celebrate Chinese New Year on Saturday.

“The whole center is decorated with New Year’s decorations. The restaurants are planning special New Year’s dishes and we have the best Lion Dance in town,” says Frank.

Both the February 2 and February 9 New Year celebrations are free to the public, but there will be a charge for food.

For more information go to www.chinesenewyearfestival.org.