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Published: Monday, January 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Adoptive parents of Asian children celebrate culture with Lunar New Year

  • Shannon Patterson (left) and her husband, Rich Patterson, celebrate the Lunar New Year with adopted daughter Sophie Patterson, 4 1/2, at their home in...

    The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

    Shannon Patterson (left) and her husband, Rich Patterson, celebrate the Lunar New Year with adopted daughter Sophie Patterson, 4 1/2, at their home in Vancouver, B.C. This year Sophie wanted to include Chinese ornaments with the family's Christmas decorations.

With its fireworks, family reunions and feasts, Lunar New Year is the longest and most important celebration for millions around the world.
For kids adopted from China, it holds special meaning. Lunar New Year makes them mini-ambassadors of a culture they know little about firsthand.
There's no official handbook on how far parents of internationally adopted children should go to celebrate their kids' birth cultures, but marking Lunar New Year -- Year of the Dragon begins Monday -- is usually one of those times for children from Asia.
Kate Eastman and her husband recently moved from Maine to Anacortes so their 9-year-old daughter from China could be closer to authentic Asian influences within an hour's travel to Vancouver, B.C., or Seattle.
Rich Patterson and his wife are in Vancouver, home to a Chinese New Year parade that drew more than 50,000 people last year. The holiday, which reunites families around the world, does the same for the Pattersons.
They take in the parade and share dim sum with six other local families with whom they traveled to China to pick up their babies. Patterson's daughter is now 4 1/2.
"This year, as a first, we fused Christmas decorations with Chinese New Year decorations at our daughter's request," he said.
That meant a bright red and yellow dragon was nestled in Christmas garland front and center above their mantel.
The symbolism and superstitions surrounding the new year are steeped in more than 5,000 years of Chinese history. Here's a sampler of popular customs among parents looking to celebrate the birth cultures of their adopted kids.
Chinese Zodiac: The dragon is the fifth and mightiest position in the Chinese Zodiac. For adopted kids, knowing one's birth animal may be a casual connection, though the convoluted zodiac includes many other elements taken far more seriously in Asia.
Cleaning house: Before the new year, sweep away any bad luck from the previous year. Hair is cut before the new year and children wear new clothes to represent a new beginning.
Red: The color is prominent in banners bearing holiday sayings in Chinese letters and decorative paper cutouts placed on doors and windows to scare away evil spirits and bad luck, along with gold and orange to symbolize wealth and happiness in the year to come. Lucky red envelopes with crisp new bills are given to children. Some parents slip in candy instead.
Dumplings: Crescent-shaped dumplings are eaten ahead of New Year's Day in China. In northern China, they are prepared for midnight nibbling the night before. The shape evokes coins in ancient China and eating the dumplings is a bid for good financial tidings.
Long noodles: The longer the better to foster a long life. New year food traditions vary widely around the world, but main dishes of fish, duck or chicken are prepared whole because using scissors and knives is considered unlucky. That means pasta is uncut. It's a rallying cry for many: "Long noodles, long life!"
Fireworks: Many ancient beliefs exist about why fireworks play a major role in the new year. One is that loud noise scares away evil spirits and bad luck. That's why New Jersey mother Karen Burgers brings sheets of bubble wrap to her daughters' school. "The bubble wrap is loudly stomped upon as the children parade around the room wearing a dragon head costume," said Burgers, whose adopted Chinese daughters are 5 and 10 years old.
Lantern festival: The 15th day of the new year is marked by parties where decorative red lanterns are hung indoors and out. Lantern making projects are a cottage industry for adoptive families online. Lantern making is one of those things Eastman said they love to do. Cali's room also is full of Chinese dolls, books and other reminders of her heritage.
"It's a learning process and we follow Cali's lead," Eastman said. "It's complex, for sure, and what makes it even more complex is how your child wants to observe each year and how much she wants to think of herself as Chinese or not. That's always evolving and changing."
For now, Eastman said, "at 9 years old, she's proud to refer to herself as Chinese American, and we're equally proud of her for that."

Lunar New Year
What: The Lunar New Year Celebration features calligraphy drawing, Chinese yo-yo and games and activities. Entertainment includes Lion and Dragon dances, Taiko drumming, martial arts and the third annual Children's Parade Contest.
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 28
Where: Hing Hay Park, Maynard Ave South and South King Street, Seattle
Cost: Free admission
Story tags » Community festivalsParentingHolidays

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