Lunar New Year celebrated at the Independence Seaport Museum

Téa Lafond, 3, picks up the calligraphy FuChun (Robert) Hsu wrote for her as part of the Independence Seaport Museum's Lunar New Year celebration Saturday, January 28, 2016. Lunar New Year is on January 28, and the museum's event included crafts, martial arts performances, and historical items.

Carina Sunshine Korbeil woke up Saturday morning to find a red envelope, a good-luck gift from her parents.

Inside was cash for the 5-year-old. Following tradition, she dressed in new clothes and a red vest covered in flowers and fans borrowed  from her mother. The family traveled from their home in Abington to Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum to continue their celebration of  the Lunar New Year with about 400 others from around the region.

Carina's parents said they want her to experience both her Chinese and American heritage. When they met 10 years ago, her father, Jonathan Korbeil, from the Scranton area, was teaching English in China, where her mother, Rosie Shen, lived. They married and moved to the United States in 2013.

On Saturday, the first day of the Year of the Rooster, the family created dragon puppets, a drum made of paper plates, and a paper lantern to commemorate the Lunar New Year, which people of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean descent celebrate in time with the first new moon after the winter solstice. More than 20 countries celebrate a lunar new year at various times.

The Independence Seaport Museum began hosting Lunar New Year celebrations a decade ago, said Michael Flynn, a vice president at the museum. An upstairs exhibit highlights Philadelphia as the first city to begin trading with China after the United States declared its independence. So the city has a special connection to the country, Flynn said, which Saturday's celebration spotlighted.

"It's a wonderful way we try to connect part of our story to the public," he said.

The museum featured crafts for children, who made dragon puppets in honor of Vietnam, where puppetry is a tradition. They sculpted models of maneki-neko, or the "beckoning cat" with one paw raised, a Japanese figurine meant to bring good fortune. They learned to play a Korean board game called Yut that is played at gatherings, especially when celebrating the new year.

Museum workers displayed artifacts of Philadelphia's early trade with China. JNA Institute of Culinary Arts prepared dumplings. Zhang Sah Martial Arts gave demonstrations. A Chinese calligrapher wrote visitors' names in smooth, beautiful strokes.

Katie Sierer of Cherry Hill watched as her children, Clark, 8, and twins Ellie and Charlotte, 4, played Yut, dropping four wooden sticks that dictated how many spaces they could move their game pieces from circle to circle on the board.

"It was pretty fun," Clark said. "I think it was like Sorry."

When he was 4 and his sisters were babies, the family lived in Singapore for six months for their father's job. They also traveled to Japan and Cambodia.  

"We want to expose our kids to different cultures and traditions," Sierer said.

That is also why Sheila Taylor, 62, of West Philadelphia, brought six of her relatives between the ages of 7 and 12.

"I wanted them to have something they can remember, because they don't teach a lot of this in school," she said.

Carina's parents plan to fill in some of the gaps for their neighbors when they start teaching Chinese at Abington Township Public Library next month.