Animal keeper Marty Dearie carries giant panda cub Bao Bao at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC.
Panda cub Bao Bao's public debut at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park over the Martin Luther King Jr Day weekend was a perfect start to Chinese Lunar New Year of the Horse celebrations.
Although the Chinese New Year won't officially begin until Jan 31, the Washington zoo got into the spirit of celebration on Jan 18, extending weekend viewing hours for the popular cub, by opening two hours early, at 8 am. "It's so cute and it's my first time to see a panda cub," says Ju Qiaoling, who is visiting the United States from her home in Shanghai. She was thrilled to see Bao Bao playing with a ball.
But most zoo-goers visiting over the weekend weren't able to see the star attraction playing because the 8.62-kilogram cub－just 154 days old－sleeps up to 20 hours a day. One woman in the panda pavilion said her granddaughter saw the cub playing in the evening via the zoo's 24/7 webcam.
Bao Bao's debut has added a festive mood to the zoo, but it is just one of the numerous Chinese New Year celebrations being unveiled in Washington DC and other major US cities in the coming weeks.
On Jan 25, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, right next to DC's Chinatown, will work with the Chinese Embassy to host a Chinese New Year Family Festival as part of the museum's family activities.
The panda will be a highlight at the event, with volunteers wearing panda costumes and children receiving free panda toys and coloring games, but the program list has many other activities that are kid－and family-friendly.
A lion dance group made up of college students will start the day's festivities at 11:30 am, followed by live music on traditional Chinese instruments by the Washington Guzheng (Chinese plucked zither) Society. Visitors can also learn Chinese calligraphy, paper-cutting, dough-sculpting, lantern-making and other Chinese arts.
The Tianjin Puppet Troupe will perform at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center that evening, and join the daytime celebrations.
At the Kennedy Center on Friday and Saturday, the Ordos Song and Dance Theater of China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, hometown of Genghis Khan, will stage its award-winning show Wedding of Ordos. The show, which recreates a wedding ceremony from the ethnically Mongolian Ordos region in Northwest China, will showcase Chinese folk songs, dances, customs and costumes, according to Li Hong, minister counselor for culture at the Chinese embassy.
On Sunday, the World Artists Experience, an organization that bridges international understanding through cultural and citizen diplomacy in communities, colleges and schools, will join hands with the Chinese embassy to present a day of celebrations for the Year of the Horse at the Avalon Theater in Easton, Maryland, just outside Washington, with a variety of events for children and adults.
From 2 pm to 4:30 pm, Washington's Chinatown will host a Chinese New Year parade that will include kung fu demonstrations, a dragon dance and live musical performances.
Many restaurants in the US capital have also arranged special menus and events for February to mark the start of the new year.
In Maryland, Chinese New Year celebrations will be held at the Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg from Jan 27 to Feb 9, with performances and workshops in flower arranging, arts and crafts, painting and games.
In Rockville, which has a large Chinese community, celebrations will include a parade, an outdoor Asian street market and musical and dance performances. The participants, sponsors and performers will include not only Chinese, but also Vietnamese, Thais, Filipinos and Koreans who also celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
For Chinese, the Lunar New Year is undoubtedly the most important festival of the year. Celebrations usually last from the first day to the 15th day. The final day, also known as the Lantern Festival, takes place when the moon is full.
The Washington area is just one place outside China that will stage Chinese New Year celebrations. When Chinese New Year was celebrated in 2013, China's central government sent cultural troupes to 251 cities in 99 countries with 355 performances.
Li, from the Chinese embassy, said mutual understanding between Chinese and Americans is vital for building a new type of major country relationship between the two nations. "Cultural exchanges have a special role and the Spring Festival is a natural platform. People get to know each other before they even realize that," Li says.