Lunar New Year celebrations in Portland

Join in local Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese New Year festivities.

lunarnewyearCelebrate Chinese New Year with colorful cultural activities at Lan Su Chinese Gardens.
A Schultz via Flickr

The Lunar New Year marks the first day of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, which typically falls in late January or early February. Several East Asian countries mark Lunar New Year with an array of cultural events and activities, but you don’t need to fly halfway around the world to join the celebrations; Portland hosts its own Japanese Mochitsuki Festival, Vietnamese Tết Festival and multiple Chinese New Year events, all of which are open to the public.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is traditionally a 15-day celebration that includes wearing the lucky color red, paying respects to ancestors and cleaning house to drive away bad luck. Festive menus feature foods like dumplings, cakes and long noodles for a long life. Other traditions include lucky papers with good wishes, money-stuffed red envelopes and firecrackers to frighten off the mythical Nian.

Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden offers two weeks of traditional Chinese New Year events. The fun includes lion dances, family crafts, Chinese folk art, calligraphy, martial arts performances and a Chinese wishing tree. On the first day of the festival, every visitor receives a lucky hong bao (red envelope) as part of the traditional “Rolling in the Wealth” event. Lan Su also collaborates with the Portland Chinatown History Foundation on a community parade that weaves through the Chinatown neighborhood. The celebrations conclude with several evenings of lantern viewings. These often sold-out events feature glowing red lanterns and a 20-foot (6 m) illuminated dragon lantern sculpture.

Presented by the Portland Chinese Times, the Chinese New Year Cultural Fair drew more than 8,000 attendees in 2016. Kick off this event at the Oregon Convention Center by snacking on free samples from local Chinese restaurants. Next, enjoy the live music, martial arts, Chinese folk dances, dragon and lion dances and other family-friendly cultural performances. Visitors of all ages can enjoy hands-on activities like face painting, calligraphy and arts and crafts presented by local Chinese language schools.

Japanese Mochitsuki 

A Japanese New Year tradition, Mochitsuki refers to the pounding of sticky rice to make mochi rice cakes. Portland Taiko organized Portland’s first community event in 1996, and the family-friendly festival has grown in popularity each year since. Mochitsuki, held at the Smith Memorial Student Union at Portland State University, offers food, artwork, local music and dance performances, as well as hands-on cultural experiences. Enjoy mochi pounding demonstrations (and enticing samples) or learn about Sekko-Kai calligraphy, origami or ikebana (flower arranging). Round out the day with children’s bento-cooking classes and lessons on Japanese tea ceremonies and New Year’s card-making.

Tết Festival

Tết, or Vietnamese New Year, is the most celebrated holiday in Vietnamese culture. “Tết Nguyên Đán” roughly translates to “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day,” but events can stretch for three or more days. The Tết Festival at the Oregon Convention Center includes a daytime celebration (Hoi Cho Tết) and an evening event (Da Vu). Hoi Cho Tết engages kids with lion dances, kung fu demonstrations, a Vietnamese history contest, music and lots of phong bao lì xì (lucky red envelopes). The adult-oriented Da Vu features live music and dancing until midnight. 

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