The Record - Hackensack, NJ
Path to enlightenment
February 4, 2005

WHAT: "Preparing for the New Year" walking tour of Chinatown.

WHEN: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Feb. 12 and 13.

WHERE: Meet on the second floor of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, 70 Mulberry St., Manhattan. (212) 619-4785.

HOW MUCH: $12, seniors and students $6, children under 5 free.

Beatrice Chen likens the kitchen god in Chinese mythology to Santa Claus. Both know whether you've been bad or good in the previous year.

But while Santa might only hold back toys from those who are bad, the kitchen god reports to the heavens - which could have serious consequences for your karma. So, instead of milk and cookies on New Year's Eve, Chinese families traditionally leave sticky rice at the altar of the kitchen god.

The stickiness is supposed to prevent him from opening his mouth upon returning to the heavens. Then an image of the kitchen god - so named because he visits the family kitchen on New Year's Eve - is taken outside the house and burned, symbolizing the end of his visit and end of the old year.

"That's the opening ritual on the first day of the New Year celebrations," said Chen, curator of education at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in Manhattan.

Chen will share this story, along with many others, in "Preparing for the New Year" walking tours of Chinatown. This Lunar New Year - the Year of the Rooster - begins on Wednesday. Tour participants will learn about family traditions leading up to the 15-day holiday that culminates with a lantern festival, and they'll take in the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of one of the most festive seasons of the year, Chen said.

Chinese homes are traditionally filled with flowers during the holiday, Chen said. According to Chinese beliefs, flowers bring luck and prosperity to families because in Chinese, the word for flower sounds like "fortunes." Each flower has special significance: For example, peach blossoms are said to bring longevity and happiness, plum blossoms hope and courage, and the kumquat tree wealth, luck, unity and perfection.

"Leading up to the New Year celebrations, stores in Chinatown are filled with decorations like spring couplets [red cloth with symbols of spring] displaying sayings like 'May good fortune come to your family,'Ÿ" Chen said. "Families hang them on their doors to welcome in the New Year."

Store shelves are also stacked with firecrackers. The loud noise is believed to ward off bad spirits and bad luck. And out on the streets, frequent performances by lion and dragon dancers get passers-by into the holiday spirit.

  • "Myths and Legends," celebrating the cultural and spiritual heritage of East and West in music, dance and cultural performances, 8 tonight at Madison Square Garden, Seventh Avenue and West 32nd Street. Sponsored by Chinese language broadcaster New Tang Dynasty TV. $35.50 to $100. (888) 300-0763 or

  • Flower market, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Sara D. Roosevelt Park at Grand and Chrystie streets, Manhattan. (212) 619-4785.

  • The Lion Dance, 11 a.m. to noon Sunday outside the China Institute, 125 E. 65th St., Manhattan. Free. (212) 744-8181.

  • Swords and jokes will fly at "Master Lee's Woking New Year's Show," which blends martial arts and comedy, at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Silk Road Mocha Caf窠30 Mott St., Manhattan.

  • Firecracker ceremonies, noon Wednesday at Mott and Bayard streets and 2 p.m. at Market Street and Broadway, Manhattan. Cultural performances will take place on stages set up throughout the neighborhood from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lion, dragon and unicorn dance troupes will march on the main streets throughout the day.

  • Festival of Chinese Dance, Music and Peking Opera, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and 2 p.m. Feb. 13 at Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, New York University, 566 LaGuardia Place, Manhattan. $22 to $32. (212) 992-8484 or

  • Chinatown parade and festival, 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 13 on Canal Street South, Manhattan. Featuring elaborate floats, marching bands, lion and dragon dancers, musicians, magicians and acrobats.
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