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The Year of the Dragon

The Year of the Dragon is the luckiest in the Chinese zodiac. Of the animals and their attributes that represent the Asian calendar's 12-year cycle, the dragon is the only one that is legendary.

"It's the most powerful animal of the zodiac," says Jeresa Hren, founder and past president of the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association. "It's going to be a great year. The Chinese embrace the dragon because it is a symbol of strength and nobility. When a dragon is faced with challenges, it is fearless."

SOCCA will host its annual Chinese New Year Celebration Saturday, Feb. 4, in downtown Jacksonville. More than 20 family activities will be offered throughout the day at more than 10 venues.

"We want this festival to be educational and meaningful as well as entertaining," Hren says. "Chinese culture is everywhere around the world. There are Chinatowns in every major city. Even Paris has a small enclave. But resources to the culture are minimal in the Rogue Valley. It's important that we keep tradition going so that we can help our children understand one of the most powerful cultures in the world."

The free festivities begin at 8 a.m. with the Dragon Flight 5-kilometer run starting at Bigham Knoll. The annual Chinese New Year Parade will start at 10:30 a.m. at South Oregon and West Main streets. The Loong Mah Ladies Dragon Team of San Francisco's Chinatown will lead the parade, and this year's grand marshal will be Rep. Dennis Richardson. Registration and information about the race and parade are available at www.socca.us.

Look for antique cars — and llamas — festooned with Chinese decorations; Who's Hu, an ensemble of Ashland musicians that play such Chinese instruments as the pipa, erhu, guzheng and others; about a dozen groups performing colorful lion dances; fan- and ribbon-dancing; and more at the parade.

"The town will be decked out with festive Chinese lanterns, and decorative couplets (lines of verse) will be around the entrances of shops and stores. The verses welcome spring's arrival and wish people prosperity, harmony and good health," Hren says. "After the parade, lion dancers will go door to door wishing merchants prosperity and good fortune."

Hren, who is originally from Taiwan, moved from Florida to the Rogue Valley in 2001 and helped found SOCCA.

"Being so close to California, we thought there would be more Chinese culture here," Hren says. "I convinced family and friends from around the country to help with this celebration, and SOCCA formed in 2005."

SOCCA's board is made up of volunteers who are professionals living and working in the Rogue Valley. Hren is vice president of private banking at U.S. Bank.

"Chinese workers came to this region in the mid-1800s to build railroads and mine gold," Hren says. "The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 suspended Chinese immigration and kept many of those workers from bringing their families to join them.

"But look what we're doing now," Hren says. "It's a total celebration."

Some of the festival's decorations will not be displayed until the day of the event, such as silk lanterns handmade by SOCCA members and a sculptural dragon weather vane created by Jacksonville metal artist Cheryl D. Garcia. The large-scale piece will be placed at the corner of East California and North Third streets.

A Chinese cooking demonstration will be presented from noon to 1 p.m. at Warren Lodge, and the Loong Mah Ladies Dragon Dance Team will perform at 1 p.m. in the Bigham Knoll Ballroom. Admission to each is $5.

All other activities are free. Look for feng shui, tai chi, calligraphy and acupuncture demonstrations, along with lectures, storytelling, Chinese fortunetelling and lots of children's activities.

See a complete schedule of activities at www.socca.us. The schedule and maps also will be available at the SOCCA information booth at East California and North Third streets and on U.S. Bank sandwich boards posted on Jacksonville street corners.

The Loong Mah Ladies Dragon Team performs at the Flower Market Parade in San Francisco's Chinatown. - Photo courtesy of SOCCA