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Flushing set to ring in Year of the Dragon

A dragon from New Tang Dynasty Television snakes up Main Street.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in many Asian cultures, but 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon — the most auspicious of all the Chinese zodiac animals.

Flushing is already gearing up, and the various Asian groups are ready to celebrate the lunar holiday, based on the phases of the moon, with the diverse population of the vibrant neighborhood.

Events will be happening all over Flushing in the coming weeks and will culminate Feb. 4 with performances and the annual parade. Last year 6,000 people marched in it to the delight of about 100,000 on-lookers.

With the Year of the Dragon, those large numbers could swell even further, spurred on by a warmer winter than last year,

“The Year of the Dragon is always the best,” said Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association and chairman of the Lunar New Year Festival Committee. “It is always lucky.”

Dragons have always been associated with power and prestige in Chinese culture, according to Tu. All of the emperors of the country were symbolized by dragons, which gave the animal its almost mystical appeal.

The auspicious animal coupled with an economy showing signs of recovery means many in Queens’ Asian community are hopeful for 2012.

Vendors along Main Street are already selling hanging red lanterns and little red plush dragons, since red is associated with prosperity. Many residents also buy red signs emblazoned with blessings to post over their doorways.

On the eve of the new year, families will get together and eat foods associated with longevity, like fish and noodle soup. Oval-shaped rice cakes called nian gao also carry good luck, since the phonetic sound is similar to the Chinese words that roughly translate as “always growing better.”

When the children are put to bed, their parents place a red envelope containing money under their pillows, Tu said.

But if those children are sleeping anywhere near downtown Flushing on the first day of the 15-day holiday, they will not be able to sleep late.

The Flushing Development Group will be lighting firecrackers Jan. 23 in front of the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library at 8:30 a.m. to kick off the Lunar New Year.

The firecrackers, in cultural lore, are designed to scare off any bad spirits.

Many of these traditions date back thousands of years, but in Flushing, the history of the Lunar New Year parade began in the mid-1990s, according to Tu. At that time, it was called the Chinese New Year Parade.

But after a few years, in order to include the Korean and Japanese populations, which also recognize the lunar holiday around the same time but not on the same day, the name was changed.

Now Korean and Chinese delegations take turns marching first in the parade.

And as it began to grow, more and more groups started to join, which is no accident, according to Tu.

Chinese immigrants started arriving in the area in the 1970s, and the Korean immigrants about a decade later.

There was tension between the new arrivals and the largely Italian and Jewish communities that had lived in the area after immigrating to New York City generations before, according to Tu.

But as Asian residents began doing business in the area and sending their children to school, they slowly wove themselves into the fabric of the borough.

And as they became more a part of Queens, the borough became more a part of the Lunar New Year parade.

For proof, any paradegoer need only look at the leader this year.

After an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. Feb. 4, the bulbous white head of Mr. Met will be strutting down Union Street, along with the 109th Precinct, leading the floats and groups that will follow.

Tu has also reached out to neighborhoods around the borough and invited groups to participate in the festivities.

Some new participants this year are Francis Lewis High School and the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.

“It’s now a community event and everyone can participate,” Tu said.

The parade will start at 37th Avenue and head down Union Street to Sanford Avenue. The floats will then make a right turn and march over to Main Street, where the parade will head back up north. At 39th Avenue, the parade will make another right turn and end at Queens Crossing, where fireworks and cultural performances will further delight the crowd.

But Tu wants to take the event even further and supports the efforts of a Flushing lawmaker to make the Lunar New Year a public holiday.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said since it is the most important holiday in many Asian cultures, children should be able to stay with their families on New Year’s Day.

“Growing up, you celebrate the eve of the new year and the next day you have to go to school,” Meng said. “I have a bill to make it a school holiday.”

Meng first proposed that bill three years ago and has a sponsor in the state Senate, but has been unable to get it passed. She hopes that either the mayor makes the holiday a reality or that with more exposure of the holiday she will get more support for the bill.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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