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Kitsap celebrates year of the sheep

Benjamin Cheung, Jessica Cheung, Scott Cheung and McKenna Elves recite in Chinese then English to the gathered guests, “The new year has arrived. The new year has arrived. Wear some new clothes and a new hat. And when you see each other greet them with happy new year. We wish you all prosperity and now can I have my lucky red envelope?” The kids are students at the Bremerton Chinese Language School. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Benjamin Cheung, Jessica Cheung, Scott Cheung and McKenna Elves recite in Chinese then English to the gathered guests, “The new year has arrived. The new year has arrived. Wear some new clothes and a new hat. And when you see each other greet them with happy new year. We wish you all prosperity and now can I have my lucky red envelope?” The kids are students at the Bremerton Chinese Language School.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Today we welcome the year of the sheep.

Although relatively small in numbers, Kitsap’s Chinese community will quietly usher in a new year with family gatherings, food and perhaps a few of the traditions that come with celebrating the Chinese New Year.

While New Year’s Day is today, the festivities started 12 days ago and will continue for 15 more days.

“When we’re in the U.S. we don’t really do much (New Years) celebration. We just kind of get together,” said Carol Chen of Bremerton. Originally from Taiwan, she remembers preparing for the new year by cleaning the house, and preserving vegetables. On New Year’s Eve the family would eat dumplings, which are meant to bring good fortune into the next year.

Children and unmarried adults, she said, are given red envelopes with money to keep them from growing old.

Natacha Sesko, a commissioner for the state’s Commission Asian Pacific American Affairs and Bremerton resident said the Chinese New Year is akin to Christmas.

“Everything has to be new,” she said.

Traditionally the house must be swept clean to get rid of the bad luck, but cleaning is forbidden on New Year’s Day because it would do away with the good luck, Sesko said.

As people entered the Panda Inn on Kitsap Way Thursday they would have gotten a glimpse at some of these traditions as Joe Mentor hosted his annual Chinese New Year party.

As people arrived they were handed a red envelope with a coin inside.

While a student at the UW Mentor studied Chinese History and became fascinated with the family-centered culture. He has been hosting parties like this one for the past 40 years.

He admires how Chinese families stick together and have a lot of respect for one another.

“I think that’s fantastic. We need to do that,” he said.

Sesko, also a Chinese dancer and dance teacher, performed for the crowd of about 100. A feast of egg rolls, fried rice, barbecue pork and wontons was served.

Sophie Browning of Keyport led her students in welcoming the crowd and the New Year in Mandarin.

According to tradition, children are to kneel down and bow to parents three times to thank them Sesko said.

Browning teaches the Chinese language at her studio and at Poulsbo Elementary and explained the significance of a sheep year.

“It has a good nature, good luck comes to the (sheep),” she said.

Each year is represented by one of 12 animals that each have its own characteristics. People born in that year are also thought to have those personality traits. Browning for instance was born in a Tiger year and said Tiger people are loyal, strong but have fierce tempers.

According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest whoever crossed the finish line first would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.

The mouse asked the ox, if he could jump upon his back. As the ox was about to be the first to finish, the mouse jumped off the ox’s back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last.

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