Queens prepares for the Year of the Horse

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Tammy Scileppi

It’s time to ring in Lunar New Year 2014: the Year of the Horse. The spirit of the horse is said to be energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able.

In many homes throughout Queens, families have been getting ready to welcome the Lunar New Year. This is the biggest, most important and most-beloved festival of the lunar calendar, commonly celebrated in the Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Malaysian communities, among others.

Cultural festivities — based on age-old traditions and a rich history dating back centuries — begin Friday, Jan. 31, and continue for 15 days.

“We are delighted that we are able to celebrate such a joyous time of the year. Since the inception of this festival at Flushing Town Hall, the Lunar New Year events have been able to bridge generational divides and unify cultures throughout Queens and abroad,” Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director at Flushing Town Hall, said. “It’s a wonderful way to kick off the dawn of a new year.”

Many households kick off the Chinese New Year or Lunisolar New Year with a thorough cleaning — sweeping away any bad luck that may have accumulated over the past year. This is considered an important ritual, along with painting doors and window panes in shades of lucky red.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, families traditionally gather together and spend the evening chatting and bonding, while preparing batches of Chinese dumplings (Jiaozi). According to ancient Chinese culture, good luck is bestowed upon the one who finds the dumpling that includes a hidden coin.

During this time, certain foods symbolize abundance and good fortune (something everyone can benefit from), so it’s customary to hand out tangerines and oranges to children and guests, while also serving up a Tray of Togetherness — sometimes filled with lotus seeds and lychee nuts – thus ensuring a sweet beginning to the New Year.

Each year, Asians throughout the world celebrate the Lunar New Year, officially called the Spring Festival. And in Flushing, preparations are under way, as the community goes into full-blown celebration mode once again becoming the center of Lunar New Year festivities in New York City.

“As there are more Asians living in Flushing than in Manhattan’s Chinatown, it is safe to say that companies, nonprofits, restaurants and residents will all get involved in the fun, which will include street festivals, colorful kites, art, and a magical atmosphere,” Rob MacKay, director of public relations, marketing and tourism at the Queens Economic Development Corp., said.

The highlight of any Lunar New Year celebration remains the parade through Flushing. This year’s Saturday, Feb. 8, event steps off at 11 a.m. near the intersection of 37th Avenue and Union Street. The Flushing Chinese Business Association, which organizes the parade, expects more than 8,000 people to march this year.

But events actually begin this weekend at the Queens Museum with its Lunar New Year Family Celebration.

For the first time, the New York Chinese Cultural Center brings its signature program of traditional and modern dances, such as the Red Ribbon and Double Fan, to the museum. There will also be arts and crafts activities like calligraphy and dough figurine making before and after the dances.

“The magic of Queens lies in our unequalled diversity. It means we can celebrate holidays like Dia de los Muertos in the fall and the Lunar New Year in the winter,” Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum, said. “We invite people of all ages to help us welcome the Year of the Horse in true Queens Museum fashion, with a festive afternoon of dance performances and art workshops for the whole family.”

Events over at Flushing Town Hall begin on the actual Lunar New Year’s Day, Jan. 31, and continue through the end of February or even later.

Highlights include concerts from Korean musicians, a mask-making workshop, sessions on the art of calligraphy and a mash-up of dance performances from China, Taiwan, Korea and beyond.

“Personally, I hope to get in on some of this fun, too, and I plan to attend the Lunar New Year Dance Sampler at Flushing Town Hall on Feb. 16, with my two daughters,” MacKay said. “Simply put, there are so many reasons to love Queens, where we have so many authentic cultural activities, and people really get along well.”

For those of you who celebrate the Lunar New Year, a word of advice, based on ancient customs: Remember not to clean your home for the first few days of the New Year. If you do any sweeping during this time, you risk sweeping away your good luck in the year ahead.

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