Monday, January 30, 2012

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Brooklyn

The Chinese Lunar New Year was technically last Monday, Jan. 23, but most celebrations in New York marking the Year of the Dragon seemed to take place this past weekend.

That includes the Chinese New Year party we held at work on Thursday -- a couple of coworkers collected donations from us all and brought back a feast from Chinatown: all kinds of candies, pastries and pretty much every dessert that incorporates sesame seeds. The mother of one of my coworkers even made turnip cake and a kind of sticky rice pudding. Signs on the wall helped us determine where our birthday falls in the Chinese zodiac, along with our elemental sign (water, wood, fire, etc.). I'm a metal rooster, which I take to mean that I'm basically a weathervane.

Of course, New York City's various Chinatowns held their own, more official celebrations, and we went to one of them on Saturday. Paul frequently works with bank branches and businesses in Brooklyn's Chinatown, and he heard about a Chinese New Year festival going on at the recreation center in Sunset Park, the neighborhood just north of Bay Ridge and also the neighborhood where the Brooklyn Chinatown is located. A few of his colleagues were going to be there, and we decided to check it out.

We arrived a few hours after the festival began, and hundreds of Chinese families were already there. We didn't even peek into the children's area to the right of the main entrance, instead making a beeline for the performances in a gymnasium on the left.

The stage and performance areas were alternately filled with presentations both traditional and modern. We saw Chinese calligraphy and dancing, as well as your typical school recital fare, like performances from a ballet class and band. The festival also felt a little like Halloween -- snack-size chocolates were readily passed around to everyone in attendance.

Yep, that's a dog on the man's head

The festival was free and open to the public, but Paul and I were one of the few people there who weren't first-, second- or some-generation Chinese. By now I'm used to being surrounded by multiple languages and ethnicities, but it was still one of the few times I've ever been so clearly in the minority without leaving the country. (Just the fact that I noticed this probably proves this is so.) But of course, we never felt anything other than welcome, and I'm very glad we went.

It still amazes me that events like this can happen two miles from home, and I usually don't have even the slightest inkling that anything is going on. Who knows what else I am missing?

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