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Peterborough’s Mariposa Museum celebrating Chinese New Year

  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

For the Western world, we are already well in to the new year. But for Chinese populations around the world, the new year is still approaching, as they get ready to exit the Year of the Dragon and welcome in the Year of the Snake.

The traditional Chinese calender runs on a lunar cycle, and their new year begins in time to welcome spring. It’s not only one of the most significant holidays in China, but is celebrated throughout the world in countries with a Chinese influence — and now, in Peterborough, as the Mariposa Museum readies their own version of the celebration on Sunday, the first official day of the Chinese New Year.

“February is so dull and grey we thought we’d jazz it up a bit,” said Terry Reeves, the Mariposa’s education director, with a laugh, as she pointed out a colorful window display at the museum Tuesday. Most of the decorations for the festival are a bright, cherry red, a universal good luck color in Chinese culture. The Mariposa has run programs on the Chinese New Year before, said Reeves, but has never had an exhibit dedicated to it until now. The exhibit includes artifacts and textiles from Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam, in addition to China.

The Chinese New Year is one of the most significant Chinese holidays, explained Reeves. Unlike Western cultures, in which New Year’s is celebrated over the course of one or two days, the celebrations for Chinese New Year can last as long as 15 days. The celebration begins with the start of the lunar calender, and is celebrated with fireworks, dragon and lion dances, and ends with celebrants sending paper lanterns into the sky in a huge festival.

The Mariposa Museum will be condensing the celebrations into one afternoon and, while they won’t be able to set off fireworks or do a traditional lion dance, participants will be able to enjoy the traditional clothes and costumes of the festival on exhibit at the museum this month and make their own paper lantern to conclude the festivities. Reeves will be on hand to explain the traditions surrounding the ancient festival.

“It’s full of color, legends and performance,” Reeves said. “It’s a very lively celebration.”

The Chinese New Year is associated with their zodiac calender and the animals that come with it. The origin of the order of the zodiac is a matter for debate, with several legends explaining how it was decided. The most popular spins the tale of a great race across the a river, where all the animals attempted to reach the emperor first for the honor of being added to the zodiac.

The Mariposa will be saying goodbye to the year of the dragon with a display of dragon lore and textiles. Not only is the dragon significant in the Chinese zodiac, but it’s also a huge part of Chinese and Asian culture in general, Reeves said. At one time, only royalty was permitted to wear dragon insignia on their clothing. Now, however, it’s a common motif. Unlike Western dragons, which are associated with ferocity and fire, Eastern dragons are considered wise, benevolent, and are associated with water, and of course luck.

In the Chinese New Year everything is about ushering out old, bad luck and bringing in the new. Even preparations for the event, such as getting a haircut or sweeping the house all link back to shedding bad luck and chasing out evil spirits. Even the most recognizable feature of the Chinese celebration, the lion or dragon dance in which multiple performer dress up in one elaborate costume to perform in local markets, is designed to bring in the luck.

Not only are the performances accompanied by fireworks and drumbeats, believed to chase away evil spirits, but people are encouraged to feed cabbages containing lucky money envelopes hidden inside to the giant puppet head that tops the multiple-person costume. The money is later redistributed to the needy in the community.

Among the artifacts the Mariposa has on display for the upcoming celebrations are two lion dance heads, the most significant part of the costume, as well as several outfits for residents to try on to gain the whole experience of the festival as they learn more about the traditions that make up the Chinese New Year.

The Mariposa Museum will be celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, on Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children and members are admitted for free. For more information, call 924-4555 or visit www.mariposamuseum.org. The exhibit of Asian artifacts and textiles are on display through the month of February.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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