The Year of the Dragon celebrations offer a great opportunity to grow our understanding of the world -- while having fun with our kids. Before you good-intentionally blurt out "Happy Chinese New Year," to colleagues and neighbors -- stop! "Chinese New Year" represents a subset of the cultures that celebrate. It's also a festivity in Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Mongolia, Brunei, Indonesia, and more, with some of the biggest festivals taking place in Canada and Australia. So say "Happy Lunar New Year!" And some call it Spring Festival, even though to many of us in colder locales that feels like a stretch.
You also don't have to be East Asian to celebrate. My family is Iranian-American and some of our favorite memories are of making fresh dumplings with neighbors in the deep winter for the New Year, attending Philadelphia's Chinatown parade followed by a dim sum feast with transplants from four continents, and for our girls, wearing the traditional Chinese silk brocade dress, that comes in every color and size.
I was struck by President Obama's 40-second Lunar New Year greeting (click here to watch), which he put in the context of his own fond memories: "Growing up in Hawaii I remember all the excitement surrounding the Lunar New Year, from the parades and the fireworks to the smaller gatherings with family and friends. It's always been a time for celebration and for hope. " He also uses this as an occasion to remind Americans that we gain strength from our diversity -- a message that can resonate whatever your political leanings (unless, of course, you think that Mitt Romney's French language abilities are a liability).
Did the president celebrate with his Kansan grandparents, who were vital to his upbringing and support system, or with his mother after her return from Indonesia, or more likely, with all of them, since Lunar New Year has been integrated into Hawaiian life, too? These celebrations may have been formative to the American president who has been criticized for stating he is "an American citizen and a citizen of the world." Having a personal experience of something as joyous and free from an agenda as celebrating a new holiday with friends can widen the vision of the possibilities for our own lives, especially at a formative age: what second language we might learn, where we might study or do business, who our friends and loved ones can be, art that resonates, food and music we enjoy, and more. It also helps us become more compassionate to the lives of others -- near or far.
This year is particularly portentous as the Year of the Dragon, a symbol of power and excellence, courage, heroism and perseverance, nobility and divinity. With all the power a dragon has, he uses it benevolently. This wisdom and restraint is a source of wealth and respect.
So, make dumplings; finally learn how to eat gracefully with chopsticks; learn a phrase in Mandarin or Vietnamese; reach out to a new immigrant family in your community; or get to know the couple that runs the ethnic shop nearby. And imagine: how will you be a wise and kind dragon, radiant on the inside, spreading beauty and promise on the outside?