Arts and Entertainment

Bring out your rodents to ring in Chinese New Year

Traditional Lion Dancer - Bainbridge Island Chinese Connection
Traditional Lion Dancer
— image credit: Bainbridge Island Chinese Connection

Awakened by 40,000 firecrakers, performers donning a shaggy and oversized traditional Chinese lion costume will rise, mimicking the movements of the guardian creature through the heart of Bainbridge Island around noon next Sunday.

In Chinese culture, when the lion is fed a head of fresh leafy lettuce, it will chomp on it and expel the pieces, signifying sharing of the wealth for the coming year.

“The Lion Dance is to expel evil spirits and anything bad from the past year and bring in good luck for the New Year,” said Randi Evans, a native of China who is now on the board of the Bainbridge Island Chinese Connection (BICC).

Chinese New Year is said to be the largest and most important of all major holidays in China, she noted.

Halfway around the world, here on Bainbridge Island, it’s climbing the celebratory ladder.

Hosted by a local non-profit — the BI Chinese Connection — the third annual island celebration of Chinese New Year will be feted over the course of next week, culminating in a parade and festival, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Feb. 10 in Bainbridge’s Winslow District. Organizers are expecting more than 3,000 people that day.

“In China, this celebration goes on for a couple weeks,” said BICC board member Bill Evans, an American who lived in China for more than 30 years before returning and settling on the island with his wife Randi.

In Chinese tradition, sons and daughters from both near and far are beckoned home to celebrate the new year with their families. Cities slow down as citizens return to their respective villages, and even those who can’t make it home join the celebration from wherever they are in the world.

Hence the BICC’s shindig on Bainbridge, now in its third year.

“The whole idea is to introduce Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap community to this wonderful festival that’s going on on the other side of the world,” said BICC board president Ed Kaufman.

“And another big draw is the food,” Evans added.

On the day of the parade, the Town & Country parking lot (at 345 E. Winslow Way) will be a buffet of Chinese food booths, catered by local restaurants and T&C itself, symbolizing the tradition of eating special foods said to embody special meanings, like long life (long noodles), good luck (oranges and pears) and good fortune (lettuce).

Also that day, at the Winslow Mall, there will be a collection of cultural booths featuring old-style calligraphy, traditional Chinese arts and crafts, jewelry, lanterns, tea and herbs and more.

“We’ve tried to make this as traditionally Chinese as we can,” Bill Evans said.

The celebration has also become more inclusive within the community each year.

This year, as part of the festival, Bainbridge Cinemas at the Pavilion will be showing “The Wedding Banquet,” an Eastern film directed by Ang Lee at 7 p.m. Feb. 7. Then at the same time Feb. 9, the Seattle Chinese Orchestra (the only traditional Chinese orchestra in the Pacific Northwest) will perform at Woodward Middle School. The Bainbridge Library and the Kids Discovery Museum will also be featuring Chinese-flavored and Year of the Rat fair for kids through the early part of February.

The collective Chinese New Year celebration heralds the New Year according to lunar calculations, a timekeeping method which predates the International Gregorian calendar and is still used in the Chinese calendar.

Chinese New Year is marked on the second new moon following the winter solstice. This year ushers in 2008 — the Year of the Rat.

All rats, rodents and other animals of Chinese New Year are welcome in the island parade — meet behind the Virgina Mason building, 380 Winslow Way, at 12:30 Feb. 10.

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