Saturday, Feb. 16 — Chinese food, tai chi, history, calligraphy, acupuncture and kids' activities will be showcased during the annual Chinese New Year celebration this weekend in Jacksonville.

Chinese food, tai chi, history, calligraphy, acupuncture and kids' activities will be showcased during the annual Chinese New Year celebration this weekend in Jacksonville.

The event resembles a crash course in Chinese culture, says Geresa Hren, who helps organize the event.

"This is a great opportunity to be exposed to this very important, emerging culture, even though it's 5,000 years old," Hren says.

The communitywide celebration, hosted by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association, will kick off with a 5K fun run at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and continue throughout the day in downtown Jacksonville.

The annual Lion and Dragon Dance Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the corner of California and Oregon streets and proceed four blocks to Fifth Street. Parade participants include 100 children from Ruch Elementary School, international students from area schools dressed in traditional Chinese "royal court" garments, Tahitian dancers, St. Mary's School students dressed as animals of the zodiac, the Crater High School marching band and about 35 other groups.

Educational lectures and demonstrations, along with children's activities and crafts (origami and calligraphy), will be offered between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at various locations around Jacksonville. (See schedule on this page.) Most activities are free, but some have small fees. Tickets can be purchased at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Call 541-899-8118.

Back by popular demand, the Loong Mah Sing See Wui Dragonhorse Lion Dance Association, a 30-member, San Francisco dance troupe, will not only appear in the parade but also perform "It's a Jungle in Here!" featuring a mischievous monkey king, acrobatic lions and a dragon, at 1:30 p.m. at Jacksonville Elementary School.

The Jacksonville celebration has come full circle as it celebrates the year of the snake, last celebrated in 2001. For those unfamiliar with the zodiac, Chinese astrology can be broken down into a 60-year cycle of 12 animals and five elements, explains Ken Bendat, an Ashland acupuncturist and Chinese scholar. Last year marked the year of the (water) dragon.

"A dragon year is characterized by grand scale and an almost tumultuous energy," Bendat says. "When it goes to the snake, all that energy is supposed to go underground ... so it's a withdrawn year and kind of has a hidden quality to it.

"It's a year to be reflective rather than impulsive."