CHINESE NEW YEAR: Philly loves the Lunar New Year, has vibrant Chinatown

Colorful dragons, traditional lion dancers and parades accented with firecrackers and brightly costumed marchers ring in the Chinese New Year in Philadelphia. Although festivities take place all around town, the heart of the celebration is in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, where thousands gather to join in the fun.
Colorful dragons, traditional lion dancers and parades accented with firecrackers and brightly costumed marchers ring in the Chinese New Year in Philadelphia. Although festivities take place all around town, the heart of the celebration is in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, where thousands gather to join in the fun. PHOTO BY M. EDLOW FOR VISIT PHILADELPHIA
The traditional Lion Dance, performed by Cheung’s Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy, is a favorite part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s annual Chinese New Year Celebration.
The traditional Lion Dance, performed by Cheung’s Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy, is a favorite part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s annual Chinese New Year Celebration. COURTESY OF THE PENN MUSEUM

Ready or not, the Year of the Dog is dawning.

It officially arrives Feb. 16, but the party starts early in Philadelphia with the Penn Museum’s annual Chinese New Year celebration 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 27. The whole family can enjoy traditional music and dance, tai chi and tangram workshops, a Shaolin-style kung fu demonstration, family gallery tours, storytelling, crafts and more. The day concludes with a drum roll and a Grand Finale Lion Dance Parade. The museum is at 3026 South St. Admission is $15, $13 for seniors 65+, $10 for students and children 6-17, free to military personnel. Call (215) 898-4000 or go to www.penn.museum.

International House’s Lunar New Year celebration, which begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 15 in the Ibrahim Theater and Galleria, is a time to wish one another luck and prosperity for the upcoming year. The evening includes a Lion Dance, traditional music and dance performances, and martial arts demonstrations, followed by a reception with traditional Chinese cuisine. Cost is $15. International House is at 3701 Chestnut St. Call (215) 387-5125 or visit www.ihousephilly.org.

Independence Seaport Museum celebrates the Lunar New Year 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 17 with activities like calligraphy classes, martial arts demonstrations and Chinese storytelling at 211 S. Columbus Blvd. Admission is $16, and $12 for seniors 65+, children 3-12, students and military.

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Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch streets is all about the Lunar New Year 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 17. The day’s events feature Alice Ye of Five Spice Philly demonstrating how to make Chinese crepes at City Kitchen, the Philadelphia Suns lion dance troupe performing around the market, a Chinese cultural performance in the center setting area, Michael Chow of Sang Kee Peking Duck demonstrating how to carve a Peking duck, a calligrapher, children’s art activities, and carts selling trinkets from Chinatown.

Practice ancient Chinese calligraphy, make a New Year’s wish and dance with a lion at a Lunar New Year Family Festival 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Please Touch Museum, 4231 Avenue of the Republic. Admission is $19 for ages 1 and up. Call (215) 581-3181.

The Dumpling Academy Philadelphia, second floor of 928 Race St., holds a series of Dumpling Making Parties for enjoying Chinese appetizers and instruction in making Chinese pot stickers from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 14, 15 and 16. Your instructor is Yin, who operates the Five Spice Tour of Philly’s Chinatown cultural walking tour, and the groups will be preparing at least two types of dumpling fillings (meat, kale and ground pork, vegetable, etc.). Each person will make at least five of each dumpling type. Bring a container to bring leftover dumplings home. Sign up at www.eventbrite.com/e/valentines-day-celebration-rose-dumpling-making-party-tickets-41327029257 or www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-chinese-new-year-celebration-dinner-chinese-dumpling-making-party-tickets-41328251914. For more information, email info@FiveSpicePhilly.com or call (215) 352-4324.

The Dumpling Academy is part of Philadelphia’s Chinatown district, where a Midnight Lion Dance with the Philadelphia Suns takes place at 11 p.m. Feb. 15 at 10th and Race streets. The celebration continues with fun and entertainment till 1 a.m. Then at 11 a.m. Feb. 18 it’s a Lion Dance Parade with the Philadelphia Suns at 10th and Spring streets. In Chinese the word for “lettuce” is phonetically similar to “wealth.” So the lion dancers will visit various Chinatown stores and businesses to compete for “lettuce,” that is hung up in front of the buildings. The hope is that the lions will bring good luck to the businesses. The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s (PCDC) Facebook page approximates the lion dance procession to be between 10th and Race and Ninth and Race streets from 11 to 11:30, between Ninth and Cherry streets and Ninth and Winter streets from 11:30 to 11:45, between 10th and Winter and 10th and Arch streets from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., between Ninth and Arch and 11th and Arch streets from 1:30 to 1:45, between 11th and Arch and 11th and Winter from 1:45 to 2:15, and between 11th and Race and 10th and Race from 2:15 to 2:45.

All about Chinatown

The colorful Friendship Gate at 10th and Arch streets signals to visitors that a bustling Asian enclave lives, works, socializes and worships here. The dramatic, 40-foot entry symbolizes the connection between Philadelphia and its Chinese sister city, Tianjin. The structure recreates a Qing Dynasty style, with Tianjin tiles. It was built by Chinese artisans in the 1980s, and renovated in 2008.

Comprised of 20 total blocks, the Chinatown neighborhood stretches from Vine Street on the north and Arch Street on the south, and from Eighth Street on the east and 11th Street on the west.

According to the PCDC, Chinatown’s population grew 64 percent between 2000 and 2010.

First settled by immigrants in 1845, the first Chinatown business — a hand laundry — was opened in 1870 by one of many that moved east to get away from anti-Chinese sentiment in the western U.S. As relaxed post-war immigration policies allowed whole families to settle here, churches and social and cultural organizations were established to improve neighborhood life, preserve Chinese culture and provide services to immigrants.

An observant eye will pick up that the neighborhood’s shops, markets, restaurants and bakeries represent the cultures of not only China, but also Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and more. Chinatown’s restaurant scene is particularly robust, and has some Zagat-rated establishments among its more than 65 eateries. Many offer a Taiwanese beverage called bubble tea, and dim sum, which is a family style selection of traditional Cantonese small plate dishes.

A big addition to the scene last year was Chinatown Square at 1016-1018 Race Street, featuring an international assortment of food and drinks, multiple karaoke rooms and a lounge that holds 50 people. Get a sample at www.facebook.com/chinatownsquare.

Chinatown’s nightlife not only includes the Trocadero Theater, and upscale lounges such as Yakitori Boy at 211 N. 11th St. and the Hop Sing Laundromat speakeasy at 1029 Race St., but also a comedy club called Good Good Comedy Theatre at 215 N. 11th St. As you stroll Chinatown you’ll notice bronze medallions embedded in the sidewalk of the various animals of the Chinese zodiac. However, since their installation in 2012, eight of them have mysteriously gone missing (a police report has been filed), according to the PCDC.

In your travels, you might also encounter eye-catching, large-scale Mural Arts Program artwork at 10th and Winter streets, Ninth and Race streets and 12th and Vine streets.

Prefer a guided tour? Chef Joseph Poon Wok ‘N’ Walk Tours have been known to feature a visit to a fortune cookie factory, an Asian grocer, a Chinese place of worship, plus a meal prepared by Poon. Check out www.josephpoon.com to inquire if any future tours are in the works.

In the mood for art? A gallery called Space 1026 is on the second floor of 1026 Arch St. and Vox Populi Gallery is on the third floor of 319 N. 11th St. On Vine Street is the Asian Arts Initiative, a community-based arts center that operates a gallery, conducts workshops and children’s after-school programs, and hosts performances with an Asian theme and monthly movie nights.

Future festivals

Besides the New Year festivities, Chinatown hosts an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration in May in Franklin Square Park on North Sixth Street, a Chinatown Night Market in the summer and fall months, and a Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

Take a look

Helpful references before you go: www.visitphilly.com/chinatown-guide, www.phillychinatown.com, www.facebook.com/phillychinatown, www.philadelphia-chinatown.info.

Getting there, getting around

Chinatown is a short distance from SEPTA’s Jefferson Station. Bus lines that stop in Chinatown include the 23, 47, 47M, 48 and 61. The Chinatown subway station stops at Race and North Eighth streets. If you need to stay overnight, nearby hotels include the Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia, Four Points by Sheraton Center City, Home2 Suites Philadelphia, Hampton Inn Convention Center, Loews Philadelphia Hotel, and Courtyard, Residence Inn & Philadelphia Marriotts.

While you’re there

Not far from Chinatown are the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the African-American Museum in Philadelphia, the Shoe Museum on the sixth floor of the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, the site of Sigma Sound Studios (where many Philadelphia International Records were made and where David Bowie recorded much of “Young Americans”) at 212 N. 12th St., the Fabric Workshop and Museum, and the Historic District.