It's probably the biggest holiday in the world.
At New Year, people in the U.S. tepidly wait for New York's ball to drop. But the Chinese people go balls to the wall. The whole billion-strong country takes an entire week's vacation to drink, eat and jet-set, taking 3 billion trips by plane, train, boat and automobile, and dropping $45 billion to stuff their faces and shopping bags. Each day of China's 15-day festival has its own traditions, starting with firecrackers and lion dancing and culminating in a lantern festival. It's an all-enveloping cultural force so powerful that the 1967 Maoists of the Cultural Revolution tried (and failed) to take it down.
Even in February, it's a celebration of spring.
The Lunar New Year festival is the rebirth of the whole year. This year it marks the changeover from the fun, happy-go-lucky babies born in the Year of the Monkey to the punctual-but-ADHD Rooster kids. Just like Easter, it's timed to the phases of the moon: It starts this year on Jan. 28.
It ain't just Chinese.
Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout Southeast Asia, in wildly different ways, wherever the Chinese lunisolar calendar is used. Japan officially switched to the Gregorian New Year (Jan. 1) in 1867, but plenty of Japanese still roll with the traditional lunar version. In Portland, you can find public parties for the Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese new years (see below). But pretty much no one rolls harder for the New Year than the Chinese.
It's been celebrated in Portland for a long time.
This is only the second year that the Chinatown History Foundation has put on a dragon dance and parade. "But we're trying to revive a practice that had been going on in Chinatown since the mid-1850s," says Jennifer Fang, the parade's organizer, harking back to days when both Japantown and Chinatown existed next door to each other on West Burnside Street.
Everyone should feel free to celebrate, but don't be an asshole.
"This is a community event," says Fang of the parade. "As much as we're trying to honor Chinese traditions, the reality is, looking at the volunteer roster, almost half the names are very obviously not Chinese names. We'll see people from all different backgrounds. We welcome that." But, needless to say: Respect traditions that aren't yours. If you have any doubts about whether you should wear that, don't.
LUNAR NEW YEAR IN PORTLAND
Saturday, Jan. 28- Sunday, Feb. 12
Lan Su Garden Chinese New Year
Lan Su is bringing the whole two-week tradition to light, starting on Jan. 28 with ceremonial orange rolling and red envelopes (sadly, not stuffed with money), lion dancing at 11 am, 1 and 3 pm on weekends, calligraphy demos, arts and crafts, and a Chinese wishing tree. This is ground zero for lunar festive feeling. Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett St., 503-228-8131. Visit lansugarden.com for a full calendar.
Sunday, Jan. 29
Dragon Dance and Parade
You want firecrackers? There will be firecrackers—huge strings of them, popping off in Chinatown at 11 am, followed by lion dancers and a huge antique canvas dragon from the old country propped up by around 20 aching-armed volunteers. "We're really hoping it doesn't rain," says Fang, fearing the weight of the water on the dragon. The parade ends with a street fair at the Oregon Historical Society. Incidentally, don't bring your own firecrackers, please—although Fang says the Tong building in Chinatown did so last year anyway. What can you do? Illegal fireworks are a Portland tradition. Northwest 3rd Avenue and Davis Street, 503-224-0008, pchmf.org. 11 am. Free.
Take part in the rice-smushing traditions of Japan at Portland State University's 20-year-old Mochitsuki fest, with taiko drumming, chopstick games, kendo demonstrations, the pounding of the mochi rice paste, kendama cup-and-ball tricks by world champ Wyatt Bray, and a performance by the Asian-American dance-rock band the Slants, straight from their appearance in front of the friggin' U.S. Supreme Court. PSU Smith Memorial Student Union, 1825 SW Broadway, mochipdx.org. 11 am-4 pm. $4-$12.
Saturday, Feb. 4
Chinese New Year Cultural Fair
Nothing says "party" like a huge, impersonal Convention Center hall. Nonetheless, an attendance of 8,000 is expected, with dragon and lion dancing, martial arts demonstrations, food, and a whole world of stuff gussied up in this year's lucky colors: gold, brown and yellow. Oregon Convention Center, Exhibit Hall B, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-771-9560, portlandnyf.com. 10 am-5 pm. $6-$8.
Vietnamese Community of Oregon Tet Festival
The Vietnamese festival of the dawn will fire up right next to the Chinese cultural fair, with loads of food, drink and song. Portland has the fourth-largest Vietnamese population of any major American city, so this should roll deep. The official Tet fest goes till 5 pm, but the real fun is at night with a concert and dance—and a whole mess of Vietnamese performers singers traveling up from California. Oregon Convention Center, Exhibit Hall C, 777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., 503-235-7575, vnco.org. 10 am-5 pm, $8. 8:30 pm-midnight, $20.