The Mendocino Beacon

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with the Temple of Kwan Tai

- By Elaina Yoneda

Sunday, January 22, we celebrated the beginning of the Lunar New Year, which has its roots in Chinese culture but is celebrated throughout east and southeast Asia. In Chinese culture, this year’s celebratio­n transition­s us from the authoritat­ive and bold year of the Tiger into the softer, more empathetic year of the Rabbit.

In the Chinese Zodiac, the rabbit symbolizes cleverness and cautiousne­ss, wittiness, and positivity. The observatio­n of the Lunar New Year begins on the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, give or take fifteen days later. It is a time of reuniting with family, friends, and community, eating symbolic foods, and making wishes for the year to come.

The Lunar New Year has been celebrated continuous­ly on the Mendocino Coast since the first Chinese settlers arrived in the early 1850s. By the 1860s, there were between 500-700 Chinese in Mendocino, so one can imagine the celebratio­ns were grand. Today, the only structural evidence of this thriving coastal community is Temple Kwan Tai, arguably one of the most historical­ly significan­t buildings within the historic district. The California State Architect dates the constructi­on of the building to the early 1850s, which, “if accurate, establishe­s Temple of Kwan Tai as the oldest “original” Chinese Joss House in rural California.” The deed was recorded to Lee Sing John in 1871, and opening ceremonies were held on November 4, 1882 (a date significan­t for its proximity to the May 1882

of the Chinese Exclusion Act). Temple Kwan Tai has been held and preserved by the Hee family for generation­s, who worked to have it establishe­d as a California Historical Landmark (1979) and created a nonprofit “devoted to education concerning Chinese immigrant history and to the celebratio­n of community and diversity” (1995).

For 28 years prior to the pandemic, Temple Kwan Tai and the Hee family invited the larger community into this celebratio­n by organizing an annual Lunar New Year feast and fundraiser to support the Temple. There will be a children’s parade on February 16 at 11:00 in Mendocino. Various schools from around the county will be participat­ing. On Saturday, February 18, in the year of the Rabbit, this community tradition returns for its 29th (or 162nd) year. This year’s dinner will be a fourcourse meal held at Flow Restaurant for $75/per person. This is the Temple’s primary fundraiser, and all proceeds from this will go towards hosting the Children’s Chinese New Year Parade, continuing to provide local libraries with resources on Asian American culture and history, and upkeep of the Temple’s structure and legacy.

To reserve your seat, please call or email Lorraine at 707-864-8271,

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