“You put the envelope under your pillow for sweet dreams and maybe your parents will fill it with money,” an employee from the Chinese American Museum tells the child in front of me.
I step forward to take my turn. She hands me a red envelope adorned with a gold tiger and a bag of fortune cookies before exclaiming “Happy New Year!”
Lunar New Year is a day that commemorates the first day of the Lunar calendar and is celebrated across many Asian cultures, with each year corresponding to one of the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. This year, Lunar New Year is observed on Feb. 1 and D.C. organizations have begun welcoming in 2022: the Year of the Tiger.
In partnership with the museum, The Kennedy Center began its outdoor, mask-required Lunar New Year festivities on Jan. 27 that last until Feb. 6. The first weekend focused on Chinese culture, which was supported by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, and the second weekend will revolve around Korean culture which is supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea. Additionally, the Chinese American Museum set up activity tables with cultural learning spaces for the attendees for each weekend.
Winter Lantern Exhibition
Lanterns traditionally symbolize good wishes and are released into the sky for the new year, but the Kennedy Center decided to honor Lunar New Year with a modern twist: a winter lantern display outside the Reach. According to the website, the display features lanterns crafted by Chinese artists that contain 10,000 colored LED lights. The six enchanting installations this year are the Butterfly Garden, Flamingo Lagoon, Flower Path, Coral Reef, Mushroom Forest and Panda Grove.
The Butterfly Garden starts the display, leading to Flamingo Lagoon and Flower Path. Together these light up the main building with colorful wings and delicate flowers. The rest are behind the building in a wide outdoor expanse. Here, Coral Reef shows off a moving sea turtle, as well as jellyfish and coral for a complete underwater experience. Mushroom Forest, true to its name, is full of tall plants and larger-than-life squirrels. There’s even a moniker explaining China’s role as one of the largest producers of edible mushrooms in the world. To finish off the display, Panda Grove’s moving animal lanterns hold an incredibly special tie to the DC community because of the famous Giant Pandas who were born in the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
“I really loved the craftsmanship behind each lantern and how each piece did its part to put a stellar landscape together. I appreciate that the Kennedy Center created this opportunity to showcase Lunar New Year,” said Jasmin Mundi, a freshman in AU’s College of Arts and Sciences who attended the event on Sunday. “Although I do wish to learn more about why each theme was picked and how the artisans involved expressed that.”
Chinese American Museum Activity Tables
The Chinese American Museum’s tables outside the Reach have engaging activities and free giveaways for visitors. These include photo opportunities with dragon and panda characters, crafts such as pinwheel kits and tiger masks and letter writing to Bao Bao, Tai Shan and Beo Bei — the aforementioned giant pandas — which will be sent to their current homes in China.
Additionally, there are lots of take-home goodies: Stickers of the Zodiac animals and their corresponding years, coloring and sticker books, red envelopes adorned with a gold tiger and bags of fortune cookies were given out to send luck for the new year. In the background, a projector played a video with clips of beautiful landscapes such as the Yangtze River and the Himalayan mountains, the historical Great Wall of China and groups of people doing Tai-Chi, Kungfu, Chinese YoYo and various cultural dances and arts and crafts.
With 2022 offering a clean slate and new beginnings, this winter lantern festival highlights and honors the traditions of Lunar New Year and offers a fun, interactive and appreciative approach to a time-honored celebration.