This post was written by Chennie Huang
Traditionally, Chinese New Year (known as “Lunar New Year” in other Asian countries) is celebrated during the second new moon after the winter solstice. This year Chinese New Year is on February 19, beginning the Year of the Sheep. Going by the lunar calendar, each month begins on the darkest day, and New Year starts on the first day of the month lasting until the 15th when the moon is brightest. According to a legend, in ancient times Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year and named a year after each of the twelve animals that came.
The Dragon’s Head, La Fiesta, Los Angeles, California, 1903. Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.
In the 1880s, a large community of Chinese residents in prosperous Marysville, California acquired an expensive, ceremonial dragon from China. The majestic “Moo Lung” (meaning dancing dragon) graced holiday festivities and civic parades in Marysville and other cities across the nation. Housed at the Bok Kai Temple, a historic Taoist temple in Marysville, the New-York Historical Society arranged for this magnificent piece to be restored. As part of the current exhibition, Chinese American: Exclusion / Inclusion (on view untilApril 19, 2015), visitors have the rare chance to get a close glimpse of this precious work of art and piece of Chinese American history.
Early Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States during the 19th century, many without their families. For the New Year, they found community and solace through neighborhood associations instead. For years, Chinese American communities across the nation put on parades, often including a dragon dance. The dragon is animated by a team of dancers who mimic the movements of the dragon’s sinuous and undulating manner. The appearance of a dragon is both frightening and bold, but it is said to have a benevolent disposition. A Chinese New Year Parade takes place annually in New York’s Chinatowns. The festivities involve huge street parties, tantalizing treats, and performances for people of all ages to welcome the new year.
But you can certainly celebrate Chinese American culture any time of year. On January 10 at 7pm, join us here at the New-York Historical Society for “From China to America,” a musical journey with renowned composer/conductor Tan Dun and guests.