Lunar New Year 2023: Ways to celebrate in the DC region

Courtesy Penny Lee/Chinese Conso

The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is one of the most important and most celebrated holidays in China and many parts of Asia — and the D.C. region will be celebrating it in many ways.

Penny Lee, public relations officer for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Washington, D.C. (CCBA), compared the Lunar New Year holiday to something similar to Thanksgiving in America.

“Families get together and celebrate at home as well as with relatives,” she said. “Whether or not people are superstitious, we believe that it’s a transition period. We leave the past behind us, and we look forward to a new year that will bring us better things than we had the previous year,” such as health, luck, wealth and prosperity.

Haisheng Zhao, minister-counselor for Cultural Affairs of the Chinese Embassy of the United States said, “Of course, it’s also a time to enjoy good food and have a lot of fun, and it is also the busiest travel season in the year. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of Chinese people traveling.”

The traditional lion and dragon dances that are often in Lunar New Year celebrations are typically jubilant and cacophonous because “the noise scares away evil spirits and all the bad luck,” said Lee, who added that firecrackers are also used for the same purpose.

Parade returns

Organized by the CCBA, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, the annual Lunar New Year Parade on Sunday, Jan. 22, will fill the streets of D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood with traditional drum performances, lion and dragon dance performances, as well as a firecracker finale.

The event will start at 2 p.m., running from 6th and I Street NW to 6th and H Street NW.

“Rain or shine or snow, we’ve had this parade,” said Lee, though the parade was canceled the last two years and hasn’t been hosted since January of 2020. “This year, we’re back, so we’re very happy to be able to bring this parade back to the street of Chinatown, and hopefully, it will be a festive one for everyone.”

Two local high school bands will join the celebrations: Excel Academy Girls Drum Team and the Ballou High School Marching Band. Also taking part are the U.S. Naval Academy, the Xiaolin Temple Kung Fu School and other community, organization and family associations.

During the parade route, Lee recommends standing along 8th Street where there are fewer crowds, but still great views. Find a map of the parade route below.

Image courtesy of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association

Other ways to celebrate

The Smithsonian American Art Museum on G Street in downtown D.C., will ring in the Lunar New Year on the museum’s first floor at the Kogod Courtyard. On Jan. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the museum’s in-person festivities will include performances, crafts, food and more. The event is free, but registration is encouraged on Eventbrite.

The City of Rockville will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Jan. 28 with a free event at Thomas S. Wootton High School that will feature performances organized in partnership with Rockville’s Asian Pacific American Task Force. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the event will also include “to-go activities” and snacks.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball will host his annual Lunar New Year Celebration at The Mall in Columbia on Jan. 21 at 1 p.m. It’s the first Lunar New Year Celebration hosted by Ball since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration will be attended by Ball, Maryland Secretary of State Susan Lee, Howard County Chief of Police Gregory Der and other local officials.

In Virginia’s Tysons Corner Center shopping mall, the Asian American Chamber of Commerce is hosting several organizations on Jan. 28. The Choy Wun Dance Troupe will perform a lion dance; Sun Magic will present a magic show; and the Chinese Culture Institute will feature a dragon dance. The event will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The Choy Wun Dance Troupe is also hosting several other performances, including at Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, on Jan. 22 at 12 p.m., The Block food hall and bar in Annandale, Virginia, on Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. and the Chinese Street Market at Union Market on Jan. 21 at 2 p.m.

In the first Lunar New Year celebration in Virginia’s Old Town Alexandria, there will also be several live cultural performances and family-friendly activities like face painting and a “community exhibit.” This event at 227 South Washington Street will run from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Starting at noon on Jan. 21, the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art will host “Journey of Color: Lunar New Year Tour,” which will have curators Kit Brooks and Jan Stuart teaching about the museum’s array of cultural objects and colors. The museum has several other Lunar New Year events and activities happening in the coming days, too.

Zhao also recommended the upcoming Jan. 21 Washington Wizards game at Capital One Arena against Orlando Magic, which will host various celebratory activities.

If interested in celebrating the Lunar New Year by satisfying your sweet tooth, D.C.-founded ice cream shop, Ice Cream Jubilee, is offering an ice cream flight that is focused on Asian-inspired flavors with five “mini-scoops” of Red Bean Almond Cookie, Roasted Barley Tea, Miso Caramel & Peanut Butter Cookies, Dan Tat brûlée and Pear Plum Wine Sorbet.

A few local bakeries that are offering Lunar New Year specials include Toimoi Bakery and Rose Ave Bakery. Toimoi Bakery is offering a variety of treats, such as red bean egg tart and Lao Gan Ma chili twist, at FRESHFARM Market in Arlington, Virginia, on Saturday and the Mosaic District in Fairfax, Virginia, on Sunday.

For D.C.-based bakery Rose Ave Bakery’s walk-in menu, there are several types of baked goods offered, but one of the Lunar New Year specials is the caramelized kouign amann with pandan sticky rice and Thai banana filling.

Michelle Goldchain

Michelle Goldchain’s reporting has focused primarily on the D.C. area, previously working as Editor of Curbed DC for Vox Media and Audience Growth & Engagement Editor for Washington City Paper. She is the author of “D.C. by Metro: A History & Guide.” She also reports for 'Artsplained' on YouTube.

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