Celebrate Chinese New Year!

In late January and early February, Washingtonians make the most of the Chinese New Year (and other Lunar New Year festivals). The Chinese and Korean embassies provide ample support by attracting performers from around the world, in collaboration with the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center, and other local venues.

One of the many illuminated animals that form the Chinese Lantern display at the Kennedy Center's annual Chinese New Year Celebration.
One of the many illuminated animals that form the Chinese Lantern display at the Kennedy Center’s annual Chinese New Year Celebration.

One can’t-miss event that we attend every year is the festival in the underground concourse connecting the Sackler and Freer Galleries next to the Smithsonian Castle. One year we had front-row seats to a free Yo Yo Ma concert. Another year, our children got to experience Mongolian throat singing from a renowned master. It’s pretty awesome.

Pro Tips:

  • Arrive by 10a (event begins at 10a on Saturday and 11a on Sunday, but you should definitely be there by 10 either day)
  • Pack a lunch. The museum provides a couple of dreary food options every year, but even PB&J beats sub-par catered lunch that’s been warming over a bunsen burner all morning.
A Mongolian Folk show at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art provides a festive (and free!) way to sample some of the best performers from around the world.
A Mongolian Folk show at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art provides a festive (and free!) way to sample some of the best performers from around the world.

A new addition to the Chinese New Year scene is the Lantern Display at the REACH complex surrounding the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. We have a love-hate relationship with the Kennedy Center in my family. We love that the events are free and only a 5 minute drive from our house, but we hate that the lines to all the good stuff stretch down the hall and out the building. Still, there’s plenty to see in the open area outside, and did I mention it’s free?

The REACH complex at the John F. Kennedy for Performing Arts feature a number of rotating outdoor displays, such as this interactive light exhibit.
The REACH complex at the John F. Kennedy for Performing Arts feature a number of rotating outdoor displays, such as this interactive light exhibit, which only works with kid-power.

The best time to go is at sunset. For some reason, there seems to be a lull in the crowd from 3p – 6p, so you have the area completely to yourself on weeknights and you won’t be overwhelmed by lines on weekends. The view of the river (and Rosslyn and Georgetown) is also best as the day draws to a close.

Sunset is the best time to take in the Chinese Lanterns during the Kennedy Center's annual Chinese New Year festival.
Sunset is the best time to take in the Chinese Lanterns during the Kennedy Center’s annual Chinese New Year festival.
The REACH complex at the Kennedy Center combines rotating art installations with a meadow of native grasses.
The REACH complex at the Kennedy Center combines rotating art installations with a meadow of native grasses.
One of the more elaborate lanterns adorning the meadow south of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
One of the more elaborate lanterns adorning the meadow south of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
One of the finer features of the Kennedy' Center's new REACH complex is the pedestrian bridge that connects to DC's waterfront park, though pollution makes for a sometimes dreary prospect.
One of the finer features of the Kennedy’ Center’s new REACH complex is the pedestrian bridge that connects to DC’s waterfront park, though pollution makes for a sometimes dreary prospect.
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