By Shane McMahon
Northwest Asian Weekly
As a crowd gathered on King Street, lettuce and firecrackers hung from the front of a building, two pairs of children in lion costumes prepared to dance, and the celebration of the Year of the Sheep was ready to start.
On Feb. 7 the Wing Luke Museum provided Seattle’s International District with the host location for some of the opening festivities in celebration of the Lunar New Year.
The celebration kicked off with a traditional lion dance, meant to bring good luck and drive out the evil spirits, and was performed by the Lieu Quan Lion Dance Team. With performers aging from 10 to 20 years of age, the team has been performing since 1978 and treated the crowd to a unique experience. While some members danced in the bright yellow or white lion costumes, others lit firecrackers, and some were beating drums and cymbals.
Children and distinguished guests, members of the museum and from the local community offered red envelopes as well as fed lettuce to the lions to thank them for driving away the spirits during the dance. The Chinese (Cantonese) word for lettuce has a historical connection with the word for wealth and the two sound quite similar as well.
“We make a lot of food and get our family together every time for the new year,” Heng Zhang, a father in attendance, said of the importance of celebrating in addition to the traditional dances.
Zhang and his daughter were just one of the many families there to take part in the afternoon of events. The celebration started with opening remarks from special guest and KIRO 7 TV anchor Monique Ming Laven as an emcee and had board members from the International District Business Improvement Area as well as members of Cathay Post 186, one of the only chapters in the American Legion founded by Chinese Americans veterans.
“This celebration is one of the museum’s most favorite events, as it brings people together from across the city and is one of our largest community gatherings,” Wing Luke board member Jill Nishi said during the introduction before the lion dance.
After the lion dance, museum visitors were encouraged to play games and watch short films related to the new year amongst other exhibits offered to celebrate. Children could participate in a game of “hide and sheep,” finding miniature animals hidden in one room.
Another room featured a stuffed animal petting zoo of fellow zodiac animals besides the sheep. Miss Vietnam Washington hosted story time on the third floor with princesses, reading to kids looking to learn more about the celebration.
Each of the three floors had items varying from New Year’s related galleries to historical pieces and various art, clothing, and informational exhibits on display.
Businesses benefit from having increased traffic flooding into the neighborhood and with a festival on Feb. 21 in the Chinatown-International District, over 40 participating restaurants have signed up to be involved with the 5th Annual Lunar New Year $2 Food Walk. Visitors can get $2 portions of foods from local restaurants involved.
“We want to involve the community and get people to explore this area if they’ve never been before,” said Wing Luke Marketing Associate Tiffanie Lam.
Lam explains that events like the Lunar New Year celebration can double the daily expected attendance for the Wing Luke. She said there’s an opportunity to involve bystanders and intrigue someone who’s never been, to be a potential member. Restaurants in the community can use the upcoming food walk to get their products to first-time customers and build relationships that will strengthen the bond between visitors and the International District community.
The Lunar New Year celebration will be opening the doors to commerce showing what the neighborhood can offer. With a Vietnamese New Year celebration starting on Feb. 21 as well, this month offers plenty of opportunities to learn about and explore. (end)
Shane McMahon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.