Chinese New Year Family Festival at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Year of the Horse begins next week, but the celebration started this past weekend with the Chinese New Year Family Festival at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Presented in cooperation with the Embassy of China, the festival features performances, demonstrations, crafts, and much more for the entire family to enjoy.

The Chinese New Year Family Festival takes place in the Kogod Courtyard of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The courtyard was transformed into a New Year celebration. We were greeted at the door by one of the “lions” from the traditional Lion Dance. My daughter was thrilled to see and pet the lion (considered good luck for the new year), and the Lion Dance performance was our favorite part of the festival. The dancers were amazing, and the crowd was captivated by the performance.

The lion dance was just one of the performances at the festival. Live music on traditional Chinese instruments by the Washington Guzheg Society filled the air, and the musicians came into the crowd to show off the instruments and answer questions. And all of us were enthralled by the puppetry performances from the Tianjin Arts Troupe from China. Any time a performance can get 2 very active 4 year olds to stop and quietly watch with rapt attention, you know it’s a good show.

The festival wasn’t just performances. Spread throughout the courtyard were tables where you could watch artists create traditional artworks. Paper cutters, dough sculptors, calligraphy artists, and painters captured the imagination of our 4 year old reviewers as well as all of the children and adults around us. Nearby the tables with artists were tables inviting children to sit and create their own artwork. Some of them were a little crowded, but my daughter happily created a red paper lantern and decorated a dragon. The paper cutting and dough sculpting crafts looked really neat – my daughter instead decided to wait and have her name beautifully written in Chinese calligraphy.

There was also an area devoted to pandas and DC’s newest panda celebrity, Bao-Bao. We liked watching the panda cam on the big screen and creating a panda craft (our very own paper Bao-Bao!). There was also a display where you could learn more about pandas, a panda mascot to take pictures with, and an area where you could send a New Year’s greeting to Bao-Bao at the National Zoo.

We spent nearly two hours enjoying the festival, and probably could have stayed longer if we had planned ahead and weren’t ready for lunch. The festival was perfect for families to enjoy Chinese New Year together – we will definitely be making it an annual tradition in ours!

Before You Go

  • The Festival is held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is located across the street from Verizon Center. The easiest way to get there is by Metro, but we did find several parking garages a block or two away. (near the Spy Museum)
  • Admission to the museum and the festival are both free. We did see several opportunities to purchase the artwork that was being created there, but all of the activities we participated in were free. Volunteers were also handing out Chinese New Year goodies throughout the afternoon. These went quickly, so if you see one that you want, be sure to get in line right away. We saw families with noisemakers and hats, and my daughter got a bracelet, a fancy pen, and a panda pin. It seemed that the volunteers were opening new boxes of giveaways every half hour or so to ensure that everyone got at least one or two things.
  • The museum opens at 11:30, which is also when the festival starts. I’m glad I realized this before we left, as we had originally planned on getting there earlier to take in some of the art in the museum before the festival. If you want to enjoy the museum, plan on doing that after visiting the festival.
  • Small lockers are available near the entrance (perfect for stashing all of our winter gear) and bathrooms with changing tables are also available. No food or drink is allowed in the museum, but there is a small café with seating in the courtyard if you need a snack or lunch. There are also a wide variety of restaurants just outside the museum.

Photos by Mara Surridge.

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OK Editorial Team

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