By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

The Party Room at the Gramercy Park in Richfield, Minn., was recently decorated by the Chinese Heritage Foundation’s Friends (CHFF) as a traditional Chinese home would be in preparation for Chinese New Year. It provided the proper setting for CHFF’s presentation on how Chinese customarily celebrate their new year.

This very popular event organized by CHFF was attended by more than 200 people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. They came to learn how and why Chinese New Year should be celebrated. Event co-chairs and CHFF board members Yin Simpson and Margaret Wong outdid themselves in creating a festive atmosphere and the traditional foods customary in Chinese New Year celebrations.

Unlike most Western civilizations, Chinese New Year is determined by the traditional lunar calendar that is based on the cycles of the moon and the sun's longitude. In fact, in other countries that celebrate Chinese New Year, it is usually translated as the Lunar New Year. In any case, the Chinese New Year celebrates what the traditional calendar labels as the beginning of spring (therefore, also known as Spring Festival in mainland China) and usually falls during the first week or two of February, although it can occur as early as late January. Chinese New Year this year falls on February 10 and is the year 4711 on the Chinese calendar.

In Chinese tradition, each year is dedicated to a specific animal of the Chinese Zodiac: the Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger and Rabbit. In 2013, we will be celebrating the Year of the Snake, which is the beginning of a 15- day celebration.

The Chinese have for centuries believed that a person’s animal sign determines much of his character and destiny. Decisions about such important issues as marriage, friendship and business are almost always made according to the guidelines of one’s animal sign.

Since the Zodiac plays such an important part in Chinese culture, it was prominently featured as an activity during the CHFF presentation on how to prepare for Chinese New Year. Guests were invited to put their name into a container that represented their Zodiac year and would be eligible to win door prizes donated by board members of CHFF, CIAC Travel and China Insight. In addition, there was an abundance of handouts about the Zodiac and other Chinese New Year information prepared and provided by Margaret Wong.

Guests also were able to try their hands at making dumplings, a traditional holiday food, participate in games or solve riddles administered by Shen Pei and Eyang Wu, learn paper cutting from Ying Liang or have traditional words or couplets created in calligraphy by Steven Mao which were also available for purchase. Children also wereinvited to participate in the singing of Chinese holiday songs.

Naturally no Chinese celebration would be complete without the partaking of traditional foods, which was available in abundance to sample or purchase. All of the tables were provided with octagonal trays of many different types of snacks that are symbolic of the holiday.

For those more adventuresome or looking for authentic Chinese holiday fare, Linda Tam prepared an assortment of traditional dishes appropriate for the celebration along with handmade dumplings prepared by Shen Pei and peanut puffs made by Yin Simpson. Traditional sesame balls with sweet bean paste were also available.

At the conclusion of the event, Ming Tschou, CHFF founder, distributed a “hongbao” to all unmarried children, as is the custom during the Chinese New Year’s celebration.

Although it is not possible to squeeze over 4,000 years of traditions and customs into a two-hour event, it appears that all who attended went home much better informed about how to prepare for a Chinese New Year celebration. The event would not have been possible without the dedication of CHFF board members and their respective spouses, along with the dedicated volunteers.

To learn more about Chinese culture and history, mark your calendars now for April 13 and 14, 2013, to attend the Sixth Annual A Passage to China event to be held at the Mall of America. Visit or for more information.

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