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Over the Moon: Lunar New Year returns to Queens

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Dragon dancers from the Wan Chi Ming Hung Gar Institute take part in the annual Lunar New Year Parade in Flushing last year. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A traditional dancer performs in front of an audience in downtown Flushing. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Evangeline Wong, 4, smiles as her balloon animal is created behind her. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Daniel Kok, 5 (l.-r.); Brian Wong, 8; and his sister Cloe, 6, meet Stripes the snake, held by Andrew Stephens. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Daniel Kok, 5, inspects a snake skeleton at a Queens Zoo Lunar New Year celebration. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Lunar New Year decorations hang in a shop in downtown Flushing. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Ho Chin Hwa paints an auspicious Chinese character on a piece of red paper during Lunar New Year festivities. Photo by Joe Anuta

The Lunar New Year began Sunday and more celebrations are on the horizon for this weekend — a double dose of jubilation that community leaders in Flushing contend should be standard practice.

The Lunar New Year is the most anticipated holiday in many East Asian countries, and is synonymous with travel, family, good food and new beginnings. Many people in China, Taiwan and Korea celebrate for most of the 15-day festival, while their counterparts in Queens typically have to cram all their fun into one weekend.

“For Asian people, it’s a special holiday in our countries. We will celebrate for many days,” said Peter Tu, chairman of the Lunar New Year Festival Committee.

Tu and area lawmakers want to see the first day of Lunar New Year made a school holiday, so the community can commemorate the beginning of the festival and then have the weekend to host a parade and cultural celebrations. A bill was recently proposed in the state Legislature that would create such a holiday, but it has been proposed numerous times over the last six years without success.

But even without the bill, Tu got his wish this year, since the first day of the new year fell on a Sunday. Festivities started last weekend and will continue this Friday and Saturday.

Each year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac is associated with a different animal. The Year of the Snake is associated with wisdom, efficiency, hard work and patience.

On Saturday, some children got a first-hand look at this year’s slithering mascot at the Wildlife Conservation Society Queens Zoo.

Except for a monkey, the zoo has every animal in the calendar — it uses lizards for dragons. Each year it brings out a live animal to get into the spirit of Lunar New Year and teach kids a little biology, according to Thomas Hurtubise, manager of education at the zoo.

Hurtubise looked on as several youngsters petted a black rat snake named Stripes.

They also learned a handful of facts about reptiles, but sometimes the adults were the ones left scratching their heads.

“Can snakes crawl backward?” asked 5-year-old Daniel Kok, prompting laughs around the room and stumping the man upon whose arm Stripes had coiled.

Over in Flushing the next day, the first day of the holiday, the winter storm had not dampened the festive spirit. At Queens Crossing in downtown Flushing, a series of traditional dancers from China, Taiwan, Korea and even America wowed audiences. At one point, a woman wearing a revealing red dress plucked city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio out of his seat and momentarily danced with the widely expected mayoral candidate.

Nearby, Ho Chin Hwa, a Taiwanese native, was painting auspicious Chinese characters on paper colored red, which is associated with the holiday. The symbols were meant to be hung around a household’s doorway to bring good luck for the year.

Many children had awakened earlier that day with red envelopes containing a little holiday cash under their pillows, a Lunar New Year tradition.

There are plenty more events to come this weekend, including the annual parade in downtown Flushing.

The Lunar New Year Festival held a news conference announcing some of the details last week, and organizers stressed that while the holiday originated across the globe, it is now a community event where all are welcome.

“This is not an Asian holiday,” said John Choe, head of a Flushing nonprofit that helped gather a diverse group of parade participants. “This is an American holiday.”

Typically the parade features a group of the city’s Finest and Mr. Met — mascot of the New York Mets — who march alongside a wide variety of traditional drummers, dancers and community organizations.

More than 100,000 people flock downtown to watch the procession, according to the festival committee, but for the last several years the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been performing track work on the No. 7 train during the holiday, which requires shutting down service between Queensborough Plaza and Times Square.

Livid community leaders could not prevent the track work from reoccurring this year — the MTA reminded straphangers they can take the N train between the same two stations — but lawmakers succeeded in getting a verbal guarantee from the transit body that the track work would not be performed during the parade next year.

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

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