Happy Year of the Sheep! Spring cleaning, dumplings and dancing for the Chinese New Year

Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia

Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia

If you’re strolling through Chinatown around 11 tonight, don’t be surprised if wide-eyed dragon costumes and martial arts performances are filling the streets; people are just getting their party hats ready for Chinese New Year. At midnight on Thursday, the Chinese calendar will start anew by saying bye-bye to the Year of the Horse and celebrating the Year of the Sheep.

Philly events

Not being a stranger to past Chinese New Years festivities, Philly will play host to a handful of cultural events for the next week — starting with the Midnight Lion Dance Performance by the Philadelphia Suns — and running until Feb. 25. There’s even a 10-course meal at Sang Kee Peking Duck House somewhere in between there. Umm, yes please! You can see a complete list of the city’s events here. Japanese, Korean and other Asian cultures are included in the exhibits and festivities as well.

How the Chinese are celebrating

Though the city’s New Year festivities will only be around until next Wednesday, the actual Chinese New Year is celebrated over 15 days, from the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar to the middle of the first month. For this, the New Year has been called the Spring Festival­ (Winter Festival would probably be more weather-appropriate, but whatever) or the Lunar New Year, referring to the lunisolar calendar, which the Chinese follow.

Before setting off the fireworks and firecrackers that ring in the New Year, a common tradition preceding New Years Day is cleaning — and a lot of it. This is the Chinese version of spring cleaning but is done more to drive out the bad luck of the last year than to clean out old, knitted cardigans from granny’s closet. Paper cutouts known as “Fu” are made from red paper and hung up in houses and stores to bring good wishes into the new year. Basically, they want to get rid of all the drama and baggage from the previous year.

For the next several days, it’s nothing but dumplings, staying up all night and more dumplings. In a giant family version of an over-the-top sleepover party, the whole clan stays up all night on New Years Eve to converse over a traditional Reunion Dinner known as “Nian Ye Fan,” where dumplings are the most important food at the table. If you want a taste of the stuffed delicacies, Buddakan at 325 Chestnut St. in Old City will be offering edamame dumplings from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22.

The last days of the celebration come as a time for reflection and prayer to families and ancestors. The Lantern Festival or the “Yuan Xiao Festival,” where funky-shaped lanterns are lit and hung up in gardens or outside houses, marks the official end of the celebrations until next year… when the more than 2,500 years of New Years tradition will begin again to celebrate the year of the Monkey.

Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia

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