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Happy Lunar New Year

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

While Federal Way’s Asian community — from City Councilman Mike Park to restaurant owner Ken Liu — has quietly welcomed the Lunar New Year among friends and family, Seattle is gearing up for its seventh annual Lunar New Year Celebration, a half-day event expected to draw more than 5,000 people.

Now in its seventh year, the free event is organized by the Chinatown-International Disrict Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) and sponsored by Bank of America, among others.

The celebration has grown and each year becomes more elaborate, said CIDBIA spokesman Tim Wang.

This year it kicks off today at noon with a traditional Lion Dance. It will feature live bands and dancers of various Asian backgrounds, including Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino, cheap eats from Oriental restaurants, and the U.S. Postmaster’s unveiling of the Year of the Monkey stamp.

“You can bet that there’s a lot of family celebrations and get-togethers going on all throughout town in a lot of Asian homes,” said Wang, who is of Chinese ancestry. On the night of the Chinese New Year, he added, “you can expect a lot of dinners that are private.”

Meanwhile, Parks, who is Korean, welcomed the New Year early Thursday morning with his family, including his brother and sister.

And Liu, owner of the China House Restaurant in Federal Way, said he celebrated Wednesday evening — the night before the Lunar New Year’s Day — with family and friends at his restaurant.

“We eat some traditional Chinese food. In northern China, where we come from, (we eat) water dumplings, pot stickers,” Liu said.

He compared the celebration to Thanksgiving.

Yue Dong, a University of Washington professor of modern Chinese history, said families often bookend the year with dinners: they get together for dinner on the last day of the old year and meet again for dinner the next night on the first day of the new lunar year.

And dishes vary according to the geographic region the celebrant — or the celebrant’s ancestors — come from in China, Yue Dong said. Those from northern China typically make and eat dumplings, while those from southern China make sticky rice balls.

Many Asian nations follow the lunar year calendar — which is based on the moon — and celebrate the Lunar New Year as well, including the Japanese, the Koreans and the Vietnamese, among others. Welcoming the Lunar New Year is a pan-Asian event.

In the Chinese culture, Yue Dong said, the Lunar New Year “is the most important holiday or festival...it’s the most important time for the family to get together.”

“It’s a time to strengthen the family and ties in the community,” Yue Dong added. “The Chinese celebrate New Years just like others celebrate their holidays. It’s not a religious holiday. It’s more a festival.”

In China, people often get at least five days off from work, Yue Dong explained. They spend the week celebrating and preparing for the New Year with various symbolic and practical ridutals, such as setting cups outside their homes, and thoroughly cleaning the house.

For the Chinese, Lunar New Year traditions encompass themes of luck, prosperity and health. One tradition is known as the Red Packet, said a member of the Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce member who asked to remain anonymous.

With this tradition, married couples present a red envelope containing “lucky money” to the unhappily single and unmarried, with hopes of better luck the coming year.

The Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce member said people also purchase house plants on the Lunar New Years Day. These plants are supposed to bring good luck to the family.

Yue Dong added that there is one New Years Day tradition the Chinese share with their Julian-calendar-oriented peers: at the stroke of Midnight, the firecrackers fly.

For more information on the Seattle International District’s 2004 Lunar New Year Celebration, go to: www.seattlechinatown.org or www.internationaldistrict.org

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