Things to Do

10 Fun Ways to Celebrate Lunar New Year

Lion dances, mahjong, themed desserts, and more.

Known as Chinese New Year, Seollal, and Tết, the Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in East and Southeast Asian countries.  This year the Lunar New Year will be celebrated on February 1.

In the Chinese Zodiac, this upcoming year is the Year of the Tiger. In contrast to last year’s Year of the Ox—which was considered to be more humble, heavy with responsibility, and reliable–this year is much different. The Year of the Tiger is about power, boldness, risk-taking, adventure, and “going big or going home.”

Please note, the annual Chinese Lunar New Year parade in DC’s Chinatown has been canceled this year.


REACH Winter Lanterns display. Photograph courtesy of Kennedy Center.

See wondrous winter lanterns. The Kennedy Center will be hosting A Lunar New Year Festival (Jan 26-Feb 6, inside/outside, free) which includes a stunning display of some 100 “winter lanterns” made by Chinese artisans. The outdoor installations will include Flamingo Lagoon, Butterfly Garden, Coral Reef, and Panda Grove. The festival will also include musical performances, a traditional Korean-costume display, zodiac stickers, and giveaways.


The Conservatory at MGM National Harbor. Photograph courtesy of National Harbor.

Watch a lion dance. Meant to bring luck and joy, and drive away evil spirits, lion dances are traditional dances performed to welcome the new year. While visiting the gorgeous Conservatory display at MGM National Harbor (which features a sequined animatronic tiger), you can watch a lion dance (Feb 20, inside, free, National Harbor). Or, consider stopping by the George Mason Library for a Lion Dance Performance (Jan 29, outside, $2-3, Fairfax). And for those staying at home, there’s a virtual Lunar New Year (Feb 5, free, online) celebration.


Asian-inspired ice cream flavors for Lunar New Year by Ice Cream Jubilee. Photograph courtesy of Ice Cream Jubilee.

Spend time with family and friends. Welcoming the new year surrounded by close and extended family is a valued tradition–if Lunar New Year could be summed up in one word it would be “reunion.” Here are some family-friendly events in the DMV:

  • Split a Lunar New Year ice cream tasting flight (through Feb 13, $19, various locations) from Ice Cream Jubilee, with flavors such as Red Bean Almond Cookie and Matcha Green Tea.  
  • Head to the Tenleytown-Friendship Heights Library to build fire-breathing dragons (Feb 1, free, Tenleytown), which symbolize strength, good luck, and health in Chinese culture. 
  • Listen to a reading of “The Nian Monster(Jan 29, free, Arlington) at a Lunar New Year Celebration at the Shirlington Library. The Smithsonian’s Lunar New Year Family Zone features a video explaining the Legend of Nian, the evil beast that inspires many Lunar New Year customs and traditions. 
  • Join Chinese American author Eva Chen at Kramers for a live reading of her children’s book “I Am Golden(Feb 2, free, Dupont Circle). Or hear the new children’s book “Friends Are Friends, Forever (Jan 28, free, virtual) about a Chinese girl immigrating to America. Or enjoy the children’s book “Eyes that Speak to the Stars(Feb 3, free, virtual) about an Asian boy recognizing his power and strength from within.
  • And, what better way for you and your kids to welcome the Year of the Tiger than to visit the National Zoo’s tigers–Nikita, Metis, and Damai?


Da Hsin Trading Company in DC’s Chinatown. Photograph by Jade Womack.

Stock up on red envelopes and tea. Filled with “money to ward off old age,” red envelopes are traditionally gifted from elders to children during Lunar New Year. Find these red envelopes, and a variety of teas, at Da Hsin Trading Company, a traditional herbal pharmacy in DC’s Chinatown. In Georgetown, if you’re looking for tea, consider the 24-year-old Chinese tea house Ching Ching Cha or stationery-and-tea shop Just Paper and Tea. In Dupont Circle, visit Valley Brook Tea, which is selling Chinese New Year Lucky Bags that include a Year of the Tiger oolong-tea brick.


The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art. Photograph courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art.

Enjoy Asian art. One of the most underrated Smithsonian museums, the Freer Gallery of Art, has an extensive collection of ancient Chinese jades, Qing and Ming dynasty porcelain, and Korean ceramics. If you’re looking for something more contemporary, head to the National Portrait Gallery of Art to see the work of Chinese American painter Hung Liu in “Promised Lands”—it offers a complex picture of the Asian Pacific American experience and seeking a better life.


A mahjong table at the new Sparrow Room. Photograph courtesy of Sparrow Room.

Go out for a night of mahjong. Find three friends and go play mahjong at the Sparrow Room in Pentagon Row, which opens January 27. Don’t know how to play mahjong? Have no fear, the restaurant plans to host lessons teaching the 144-tile game. While there, sip on their White Tiger Milk Punch or Lychee Pearl cocktails.


Chinese New Year macaron set. Photograph courtesy of Sweets by Caroline.

Indulge in Asian sweets. The Asian Art Museum is hosting Kevin Tien of Moon Rabbit, Rosie Nguyen of Rose Ave Bakery, and Yuan Tang of Rooster & Owl for a Lunar New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner (Jan 31, free, online) cooking demonstration. Learn how to make three different dishes with recipes found here or order your own celebration box for pick-up ($45) beforehand. If you are still looking for special treats for the occasion, Sweets by Caroline has limited-edition Chinese New Year macarons ($25) to pre-order until January 23. Rice Culture has a Lunar New Year special menu of Taiwanese pineapple cakes, fried sesame balls, and butter mochi muffins.


Special Seollal 설날 dinner by Anju. Photograph by Rey Lopez for LeadingDC.

Eat noodles for a long life. In Chinese culture, long noodles represent longevity and are a mandatory meal during New Year’s celebrations. Feast on dan dan noodles from Great Wall Szechuan or Panda Gourmet, devour pan-fried noodles from Tiger Fork, or indulge in lo mein from Maketto. Or order from Lucky Danger a specialty Chinese New Year meal for two, featuring oxtail lo mein. Accompany your noodles with Queen’s English‘s Poon Choy, a traditional Cantonese festival meal; don’t miss their extensive baijiu cocktail menu. For those looking for jeon, a dish traditionally eaten in Korean culture on Seollal, restaurants Anju and Mandu are teaming up for a special dinner.


Chinese New Year Dinner by Lucky Danger. Photograph courtesy of Lucky Danger.

Discover Asian cuisine at home. You may know Szechuan or Cantonese cuisine, which are popular around the DMV, but what about the cuisines of Gansu or Yunnan? Streaming on Netflix, “Flavorful Origins” takes watchers on a journey of the various ingredients used in Chinese cooking, such as mutton and nan piě (a wild berry). Or, watch DC’s own Danny Lee of CHIKO on Lisa Ling’s new docuseries “Take Out,” which premieres January 27, and talks about Asian cuisine in America and the Asian American experience.


Chinese Youth Club Parade Sergeants ready to help manage the Lunar New Parade, 2019. Photograph courtesy of Tom Fong and Washington Chinese Youth Club.

Learn about the local DC Asian community. The @1882foundation Instagram often highlights significant places in DC’s Chinatown community, as well as educates followers on the lasting effects of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Additionally, the AAPI in DC researches and documents Chinese and Korean experiences and places within Washington.

Jade Womack is an energy economist by day, and an events blogger by night. She started her blog, Clockout DC, when she was moonlighting as a bartender in 2019. She grew up in Arlington, and currently lives in Adams Morgan with her dog.