Ever wanted to dance along with a Chinese dragon or listen to the singing of a traditional Chinese opera?
New Year revelers can do both during the lunar new year celebrations now under way in Montgomery County.
Feb. 10 is the official start of year 4711 in the Chinese calendar, which is also the Year of the Water Snake in the Chinese zodiac.
Based on the cycles of the moon, the date is celebrated in China and other Asian countries with family feasts on New Year’s Eve, Feb. 9, followed by firecrackers, visits with friends the next day, gifts of money in red envelopes under children’s pillows and other traditions that go back thousands of years.
“It’s the most important holiday to Chinese people,” said Mei Wang, of North Potomac. “It’s a minimum of 15 days, and each day has a [meaning].”
Wang, who teaches chemistry at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, is one of the volunteers helping to organize new-year celebrations in Gaithersburg and Rockville.
Already under way are the 14th annual New Year displays and festivities at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg organized by the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center based in Gaithersburg, which provides health and social services to the Chinese community.
The theme this year is “Chinese Knight and Wushu (martial arts).”
Weekend presentations by more than a dozen groups performing songs, dances and opera, along with tai chi and martial arts, run from noon to 5 p.m. on Feb. 9 and 10 and Feb. 16 and 17.
Riddles, a lion dance and a dragon dance will close the festivities on Feb 17.
Long a symbol of strength and wisdom in China, the dragon is thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune.
“China started with the dragon,” Wang said. “The Chinese people are the offspring of the dragon.”
Next weekend, the city of Rockville will mark its fifth year of celebrating the Asian lunar new year. This year the city, which used to present groups at local high schools, is joining forces with the VisArts center in Rockville Town Center to present a day-long program of food and festivities on Saturday, Feb. 16.
VisArts on Gibbs Street has organized a Chinese parade with music and dance performers that begins at 11 a.m., on Feb. 16 followed by an outdoor food and crafts market from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Gibbs Street.
The center also will host free arts and crafts activities and tours of its artists’ studios.
From 3 to 5 p.m., the city of Rockville will present nearly a dozen music and dance performances on the lower level of the Montgomery County Executive Office Building on nearby Monroe Street.
“Each year we try to get a nice variety,” said Janet Kelly, the city’s liaison to the Asian Pacific American Task Force. “The groups are not just from China. They’re from all over Asia.”
Performing in the city’s program will be Wang’s 10-year-old son, Isaac Xie, who will perform a four-minute section of a Chinese opera about three brothers asked to come to the aid of the emperor during the Tang dynasty, which ruled China from about 600 to 900 AD in the Western calendar.
“It’s a beautiful custom — the words are like poetry,” Wang said,
She said her son, who attends Stone Mill Elementary in North Potomac, has been training in the traditional opera style for years.
Known for its exaggerated movements, elaborate costumes and falsetto singing, Chinese opera is like Italian opera in that it combines acting, music and dance, but is older and celebrates different stories and historical figures.
Also performing will be a Korean drum and fan dance team from Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown, tinikling dancing, utilizing long bamboo poles, from the Philippines, dances from India and music on the gu-zheng, an ancient Chinese zither, which musicians play by plucking its strings.
The event is free, and the city will provide light refreshments from the Pho Nom Nom Vietnamese restaurant, Thai Pavilion and Sweet Frog desserts, all located in Rockville.
“This is a time when you see families interacting a lot and visiting,” said Kelly. “It’s great to see families coming together.”