Things To Do

Dragon Dances & Dumplings: Where to Celebrate the Lunar New Year

This past Monday marked the first day of the Lunar New Year, the auspicious year of the dragon. In the Chinese zodiac, the dragon is revered as the mightiest of all 12 signs: It's a divine beast that brings with it power, abundance, and good fortune -- all things that most of us could use this year.

Even more auspiciously, 2012 is a water year, meaning that the dragon will also -- hopefully -- bring with it wealth and creativity, and bring it on with speed. And one of the best ways to ensure that the year of the dragon brings good luck your way is by giving hong bao -- the famous red envelopes filled with offerings of money -- to a dragon dancer at one of Houston's three big Lunar New Year celebrations coming up this week.

The annual Lunar New Year celebration at the Chinese Community Center (9800 Town Park) in Bellaire is a can't-miss event. Parking and admission to the celebration are free, and it runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, January 28. (That's a video of the festivities above.)

The food stands outside are amazing, but they only take cash, so come prepared: You can get everything from Japanese egg puffs to Hong Kong beef chow fun, and from Chinese congee and Thai tea. Inside the main auditorium, shows and cultural exhibits run all day long -- including both lion and dragon dances.

Montrose will have its own Lunar New Year celebration, which takes place next Saturday, February 4. It coincides with the grand opening of The Rice Box food truck, which is hosting the celebration. From 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the parking lot of Anvil (1424 Westheimer) will be transformed into Lunar New Year central, with food specials from The Rice Box and performances by the Shi Xing Hao Shaolin Kung Fu Academy.

At noon, the Shaolin school will begin beating on the "summoning drums" to announce the dragon's entrance. The food truck will be handing out red envelopes to anyone who wants to participate. And as the dragon performs its dance, the dancers will approach the audience who -- if they choose -- can put money in the red envelops as donations to the dragon (and the Shaolin school, more importantly) for luck. The dragon dance will last until 1 p.m.

Also next weekend: Lunar New Year Houston 2012 will be held in Chinatown's Viet Hoa Center (8300 W. Sam Houston Pkwy S). From noon to dusk each day on February 4 and 5, the free celebration will feature a broader schedule of Lunar New Year events than just Chinese events.

Korean and Vietnamese dances and demonstrations will be featured on the weekend's schedule alongside Chinese dragon and lion dances each day. Fireworks will be set off at dusk, and delicious food will be available from vendors all day long. Again, bring cash as well as a pair of comfortable shoes: At 50,000 attendees each year, this is the largest Lunar New Year celebration in Houston -- and you'll want to stick around until the very end.

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Katharine Shilcutt