fbpx Ushering in the Year of the Dragon at The Huntington's Lunar New Year Festival
The Votes Are In!
2023 Readers' Choice is back, bigger and better than ever!
View Winners →
Vote for your favorite business!
2023 Readers' Choice is back, bigger and better than ever!
Start voting →
Subscribeto our newsletter to stay informed
  • Enter your phone number to be notified if you win
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Ushering in the Year of the Dragon at The Huntington’s Lunar New Year Festival

Ushering in the Year of the Dragon at The Huntington’s Lunar New Year Festival

by May Ruiz
share with

To most Asians and people of Chinese descent, the dragon is the most auspicious animal symbol in the lunar calendar – it symbolizes power and success and brings good fortune and prosperity. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens welcomed the Year of the Dragon with a festival on Feb. 10 and 11, 2024 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.     

Program highlights on Feb. 10 included live music by the Han Music Ensemble (10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2–4 p.m.) and Chinese Kwun Opera Society (11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) in the Chinese Garden. There were also martial arts demonstrations by Shaolin Temple Cultural Center USA (East Lawn, 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) and K-STAR Contortion and Martial Arts (Rothenberg Hall, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.), as well as lion dancers featuring Northern Shaolim Kung Fu (12:30 and 3:30 p.m.) on the East Lawn near the Huntington Art Gallery. Additionally, mask-changing artist Wei Qi Zhong performed (11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.) inside Haaga Hall.

Lion Dance. | Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

“This is one of the most beloved events of the entire year at The Huntington,” Sian Adams, director of strategic initiatives, stated during a phone conversation. “There’s something for everybody; it has a lot of different food options, live music, performances, arts and crafts workshops for kids, lots of different offerings that make the day fun for a variety of ages.”   

Kung Fu demonstration. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

While some events – like the lion dance – are mainstays, the organizers mix up the offerings. “We always are looking at the programming,” stated Adams. “This year we added the Kun Opera for a two-day performance in the Chinese Garden because we wanted to bring in something very artistic and special to the garden’s space itself.”

Kun Opera. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

The Kun Opera, also known as Kunqu Opera, is one of the three classic operas of the world. It is highly stylized – singers with painted faces wear elaborate costumes; hand gestures and head movements add another layer of meaning to what’s being sung. UNESCO proclaimed it as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.       

All performances were relatively short – about 20 minutes each – held at different locations and people watched while standing. However, some performances had seating, like the Kun Opera in the Chinese Garden and the contortion and martial arts shows in Rothenberg Hall.

Floral display. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Whether it was by design or a case of bad scheduling, some shows were presented during the same time slots. Visitors either missed a really great presentation or had to stay the entire day to catch all the performances. If the organizers planned that all along to entice people to stay longer, though, then it was brilliant! There were several shows that went on throughout the day, like the floral arrangements, the Lego display, and calligraphy writing station. The Han Music Ensemble played well-known Chinese music with traditional instruments at the Transcendent Pavilion from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m.    

Calligraphy-writing station. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

According to Adams the Lunar New Year Festival is open to all members but it’s so popular that membership tickets usually sell out on the first day they’re offered. Tickets are also available to the general public although these also go very quickly so everyone is encouraged to purchase well in advance. Advanced reservations to get in are required for non-members and members as well.                 

Tai Chi demonstration. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

“This annual event is part of The Huntington’s regular programming,” explained Adams. “That said, we’ve had one corporate partner which has made the Lunar New Year Festival possible for us since the beginning and that’s East West Bank. They have been our champion and a friend to the Chinese Garden at The Huntington from the earliest days. We’re truly lucky and we appreciate their friendship.”

Masked performer. | Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Now in its 19th year, the Lunar New Year Festival is The Huntington’s biggest event and it takes place across the institution in multiple staging spaces. It’s surprising therefore to learn that there aren’t that many people who make it happen. Adams said, “It’s a pretty lean and mean team headed by our Membership Department. But while there are only a handful of core staff organizing it, there are about 50 volunteers on the day of the event to help ensure everything runs smoothly. We have a robust volunteer program – teen volunteers, docents, and staff sign up for the various events.” 

Battlefield drums (gu) being played. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

“The Lunar New Year Festival is a big lift for The Huntington – it’s all hands on deck for all of us here. We want everybody who comes to have a good experience and a great time. We look carefully at our programming and, just as important, our food offerings. All our restaurants are open and we also bring in external food trucks so there are lots of options to help ensure shorter lines and people aren’t waiting a long time for food. Additionally, we want to give visitors a variety of choices. These food trucks are typically grouped in spaces but they’re all over The Huntington. It’s a very large campus so we want to make sure there is food available everywhere for easy access to visitors. You can be on one side and you don’t want to go all the way to the other side to find food.”

Adams added, “We make sure we offer lots of different entry points to invite people to come in and learn about other cultures and experience different traditions. Food can sometimes be an important gateway. You might try Chinese food and think ‘Oh I want to learn a little bit more.’ It makes the world a little bit smaller.”                    

Han Music Ensemble with traditional Chinese instruments (pipa, which is like a guitar, on the left; guzheng, a plucked zither, on the right). | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

“One of the things I want to emphasize is how proud we are to be a part of the Chinese-American community in Southern California,” declared Adams. “With the garden and this festival, we open up The Huntington and welcome that dialogue in trying to make the world a little bit smaller by bringing east and west together. And really just connecting people and educating for the purpose of increasing understanding is important for these days and times. If you can learn a little bit more about another culture, boy doesn’t that go far!? Those are the things you carry your whole life – a little bit of understanding, a little bit of perspective.” 

Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

If there’s one thing that most people can connect with, it’s food. And who doesn’t like Chinese food? Dumplings, chow mein, sweet and sour pork, and orange chicken are some of the most recognizable dishes the world over. How wonderful it is to discover our shared humanity with people sitting at the same table while enjoying a delicious bowl of noodles and taking in the artistic and cultural traditions of one of the oldest civilizations on earth. At the very least, it’s a fantastic way to welcome the Year of the Dragon.                        

More from San Gabriel Valley

Skip to content