MANHATTAN — With the city gearing up for the start of Chinese New Year next week, revelers will be ushering in the much-anticipated Year of the Dragon at festivals and events from Chinatown to Flushing.
The biggest holiday in China — the country itself shuts down for weeks each year in celebration — will be feted in the Big Apple with firecrackers, traditional dance and performances, and for many Chinese-Americans, a family gathering and wishes for good luck in the year to come.
“It is a big year. The birth rate [in the Chinese community] is anticipated to jump between 35 and 50 percent,” said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, about the expected increase in newborns from Chinese parents wanting their children to be born in the prestigious Year of the Dragon.
The holiday, which some described as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one, will last for weeks and offers events for lifelong observers and the uninitiated alike.
This Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 21 and 22, the Museum of Chinese in America will lead walking tours through Chinatown for participants to learn about how the community prepares for the holiday with specific customs.
On Monday, Jan. 23, the official start of Chinese New Year, tens of thousands of firecrackers will be set off in Sara D. Roosevelt Park during the annual Firecracker Ceremony, a tradition meant to ward off bad omens and bring good fortune.
Chinatown’s 13th annual Lunar New Year Parade is set for Sun., Jan. 29, at 11 a.m., and includes thousands of parade-goers marching along neighborhood streets, along with elaborate floats and traditional lion and dragon dances.
Flushing, home to the city’s largest Asian population, will hold its 16th annual Lunar New Year Parade on Sat., Feb. 4, with its massive march beginning at 11 a.m. The event culminates at Queens Crossing Mall at 12:30 p.m. with even more traditional performances.
Aside from all the action on the street, participants will flock to restaurants and join their families for one of the most important meals of the year in Chinese culture.
"As a kid growing up, Chinese New Year was the biggest event of the year for Chinese people," said chef and TV personality Eddie Huang, 29, owner of the popular East Village restaurant BaoHaus. "I didn’t even celebrate Christmas until I was 13 or 14."
In addition to family customs like paying respect to ancestors and cleaning the house to "sweep out the bad luck," many homes will brimming with traditional dishes like pork shoulder, roast duck, dumplings and noodles, Huang explained.
For his part, the chef is hosting a three-course meal at LTO on East Broadway on Tues., Jan. 24 — a tradition that began at his restaurant years ago as way to celebrate with close friends when he couldn’t be with his family.
"I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it," Huang said, adding it's important for the new generation of Chinese-Americans to appreciate the significance of the holiday.
"I think the most important thing is to be with your friends and family," he said. "Let’s get all our good friends that we want to see and have some good energy going into the New Year."
With dozens of restaurants in Chinatown and Flushing planning special New Year menus, Huang and Chen both suggested that hungry revelers take advantage of the myriad — and sometimes daunting — foods available.
Chen suggested that diners enjoy dim sum at restaurants such as the massive Jing Fong on Elizabeth Street or Delight 28 on Pell Street, or Peking duck at the Peking Duck House on Mott Street and Red Egg on Centre Street.
"Be adventurous, explore," he said. "Eat something you have not eaten before."
Huang’s menu features such items as spaghetti squash with sea cucumber and roast duck, sautéed clams over sticky rice and also Taiwanese tomato and eggs with baby fish and pickled radish.
“The Year of the Dragon is always festive and outlandish and over the top,” he noted, "so it’s always a fun year to watch unfold."