Who would think a dragon would arrive bearing flowers?
But that's what's happening this month, when the city's Chinatown neighborhood holds its first flower market, embracing a colorful tradition to welcome the lunar new year.
The market will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 21 and 22 at the 10th Street Plaza, the Vine Street space defined by two giant stone foo dogs, the sacred lionlike sentries that serve as the gateway to Chinatown. The Year of the Dragon arrives on Jan. 23.
Officials with the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. (PCDC) who are organizing the event said they want the flower market to build on the success of the inaugural Night Market, which drew thousands to sample Asian-style foods in October.
"The way we've looked at Chinatown in recent years is, 'What can we do to make Chinatown feel more like home to immigrants?' " said John Chin, executive director of PCDC. "And at the same time, 'What programs and products would also attract visitors to Chinatown?'
"I think the flower market does both."
Flower markets bloom across Asia, especially in China, and also in U.S. Chinatowns in the days leading up to the Chinese New Year, which usually arrives in late January or February. Merchants sell not just daffodils and orchids but fruits and candies, along with new year's banners and hangings.
Purchased for the new year, flowers symbolize growth and rebirth. Oranges and tangerines connote happiness, their seeds symbolizing the continuity of generations.
The local event is being promoted as the first flower market in the local Chinatown's 142-year history. But PCDC wants the market to provide more than memories, by attracting visitors and bringing business to a community hurt by the recession, and by linking Chinatown with markets and celebrations in the rest of the world.
In Hong Kong, a big flower market opens a couple weeks before New Year's Eve, the night when crowds flood Victoria Park to buy blooms and stroll with friends. The Chinese city of Guangzhou runs a giant, century-old flower market year-round, its wares sold not only in nearby cities but across Asia.
In this country, San Francisco's Chinatown hosts a flower market fair on the weekend before New Year's Day that draws huge crowds to the streets and city dignitaries to a stage.
This first local flower market won't approach that level of size or excitement. Vendors will come primarily from Chinatown here. But Chin wants the event to build and grow each year.
"That's the hope," he said. "Let's see how we can improve it the following year, and continue to make Chinatown an ethnic destination and a community for our residents."