Lifestyle

Year of the Rooster gets a rousing welcome

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The Asian and Pacific Islander communities celebrated the Lunar New Year at an annual all-day event at the Tacoma Dome last Saturday, hosted by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center.

The celebration showcased the Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultures, with food and entertainment featuring the South Pacific.

Federal Way City Councilman Mike Park, who attended the event, said as many as 15 Asian ethnic groups were there, and he estimated there were thousands of people who came out to enjoy the festivities. The Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar, he said.

The Asia Pacific Cultural Center, founded in 1996 and now located in downtown Tacoma, represents 47 cultures and countries. The non-profit organization has hosted the annual New Year celebration for seven years. In the past, the event has featured the cultures of Vietnam, Samoa, the Philippines, Korea and China. The annual New Year’s Celebration is free.

The new year, which begins today, heralds the Year of the Rooster and bids farewell to the Year of the Monkey. Those born under this year are “very hard-working and very energetic characters,” Park said. “They wake up very early.”

According to legend, Buddha summoned all the creatures to visit him before he left Earth. Only 12 came — rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and boar — to say goodbye, so he honored each with a year. The zodiac runs in 12-year cycles, and those born under a particular animal are said to have that animal’s characteristics.

New Year is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar, Park said, followed closely by Thanksgiving. It’s predominantly a holiday spent celebrating and appreciating family and ancestors and hoping for a healthy and prosperous new year.

“In Korea right now, people have almost a week holiday,” he said. “This is a big, big deal to the Asian community. For people away from home, this is the time to visit home, family and ancestors’ graves.”

In China, the lunar new year begins with the arrival of the second new moon after the winter solstice and lasts 15 days. As the day approaches, people clean their homes to ward off bad luck or evil spirits.

On New Year’s Day, Chinese families gather for a big dinner and stay up late with the belief it will prolong the life of the elder members of their families. They dress in their best clothes and exchange small gifts. Like cultures around the world, Chinese people set off firecrackers on New Year’s Day — in the Chinese culture, the bangs and whistles frighten off evil spirits.

The Vietnamese New Year usually falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19 and it, too, is preceded by several days of preparation. Sweet rice cakes are steamed and ancestral alters are cleaned and decorated. The night before the new year, the head of the family burns incense at the alter.

Cambodians also observe the lunar calendar, but they don’t celebrate the New Year until April 13-15. In preparation, they clean and decorate their homes. They play games during all three days of the holiday and eat traditional foods, like peanut curry, noodles and tree mushrooms. Men and boys wear black pants with white shirts and women and girls wear skirts and colorful robes.

The Thai New Year also is celebrated April 13-15. The first day marks the end of the old year and the third marks the beginning of the new year.

Like cultures around Asia, the Thai New Year is a time for families to gather and honor their elders and ancestors. Younger generations pour scented water onto the hands of their parents and grandparents and presenting them with gifts. In return, the elders wish the younger members of their families good luck and prosperity.

Japanese people celebrate the new year on Jan. 1, like Western cultures, but it’s the most important holiday of the year in Japan. In preparation, homes are cleaned and decorated with traditional items. On New Year’s Eve, people eat a dish of buckwheat noodles for longevity and watch popular New Year celebration shows on television. Bells are rung at temples and shrines at midnight.

People observe the beginning of the new year by watching the sun rise and most try to observe the day with joy and happiness — free of stress, anger or work — as the first day of the new year is representative of the year to come. People traditionally visit a shrine on New Year’s Day, and many eat traditional foods.

In Korea, too, there are special foods eaten during this time of year, including a rice cake soup that is believed to add a year to the imbiber’s life. People dress in new clothes the morning of New Year’s Day to symbolize new beginnings and gather at the home of the eldest male family member for a ceremony honoring their ancestors. Following the ceremony, the younger generation bows to elders in the family and wishes them good health and prosperity. Elders then give gifts or newly minted money.

Early this morning, Park’s relativesmet at his home for a special memorial service for their mother, father and ancestors.

“If you have treated past ancestors well, the next generation gets good fortune,” Park said. “If I treat my parents well, even though they’ve passed away, they can provide good fortune to children and grandchildren.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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