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CHINATOWN

Partygoers prepare for the Year of the Rat

Lion dancers celebrate the Year of the Pig last February in the Chinatown section of Boston. Lion dancers celebrate the Year of the Pig last February in the Chinatown section of Boston. (John Bohn/Globe Staff/File)
Email|Print| Text size + By Jason Beerman
Globe Correspondent / February 3, 2008

On Thursday in the Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai, massive New Year celebrations ushering in the Year of the Rat will kick off with a three-day public holiday that includes parades, all-night fireworks displays, multicourse banquets, family dinners, and parties.

The celebrations continue for the first 15 days of the New Year and culminate with the Lantern Festival at the full moon.

Though it shares some of those traditional features, Boston's Chinatown marches to the beat of its own gong with its New Year celebrations.

The festivities in Boston -- some open to the public, some private -- stretch out over nearly a month.

"We only have so many weekends to hold these New Year parties, and the Chinatown community has so many organizations and family associations," said Gilbert Ho, chairman of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England. And the fact that only a few restaurants in Chinatown can hold these large banquets means the celebration goes on. And on.

The only public celebration on Thursday in Boston's Chinatown starts at midnight, just as Feb. 6 ends and the New Year begins. The Boston Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club lion dance troupe will perform in front of 6 Tyler St. to welcome in the New Year, the first of 11 performances on its schedule for the holiday.

Ten days later, the real celebration gets underway as 11 lion dance troupes from local kung fu clubs and associations hit the streets for the Chinese New Year Festival at the corner of Essex Street and Harrison Avenue. Performed to the staccato cadence of drums, cymbals, gongs, and firecrackers, the lion dances are intended to ward off evil spirits and bring in luck and fortune for the New Year.

Civic associations, such as Chinatown Main Street and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, host large banquets that double as fund-raisers at Chinatown dim sum halls. "With the New Year, people think if you do a good deed, you'll be rewarded for the rest of the year," said Carmen Chan, director of major gifts and communications for the center. "So it's a good time to do charity work."

Local family associations - combination social club, civic association, and extended family - host their own banquets.

"Altogether during the Chinese New Year, there are probably in the vicinity of about 34 Chinese banquets," said Frank "Uncle Frank" Chin, a member of the Gee How Oak Tin family association and a longtime patriarch of Boston's Chinatown.

"We really welcome the diversity of people who want to get to know our culture and be part of the celebration," Chan said.

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