Panda Express kicks off the 2011 Chinese New Year holiday by bringing back a special menu item for a limited time only: spicy Firecracker Chicken Breast. The Chinese New Year entrée features strips of marinated chicken breast; red, green, and yellow bell peppers; sliced onions; and red chili peppers, all cooked in a wok with Panda’s original zesty firecracker sauce. Panda Express will also be offering a coupon for a free single-sized portion of Firecracker Chicken Breast to Facebook fans, for one day only on February 3, the first day of the 15-day-long holiday celebration.

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the first moon signals the beginning of Chinese New Year. The Year of the Rabbit New Year’s celebration will begin on February 3 and end on February 18. Firecracker Chicken Breast will be available in participating Panda Express locations nationwide from January 19 until March 1, and will be on the restaurant’s catering menu for hosting Chinese New Year parties. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, families come together to enjoy a feast, which bears such importance that if a family member can not attend, an empty seat is kept to symbolize their presence.

“The Chinese New Year’s Eve feast features ingredients that carry special symbolic meaning,” says executive chef Andy Kao. “Firecracker Chicken Breast is created with chicken because it represents prosperity and happiness while firecrackers are a traditional part of New Year’s celebrations—according to Chinese folklore, Nian, a man-eating beast came into towns in search of people to feast upon. People used bright red decorations and firecrackers to scare Nian away to have a safe new year.”

In honor of the holiday, Panda Express is offering its Chinese New Year Learn with Me Program free of charge to all elementary schools across the nation. This child-friendly, interactive curriculum is designed to help educators teach the cultural significance of the holiday. In its fifth year, the Learn with Me Program targets second to fourth graders and is targeted to serve 300,000 students across the country for 2011.

Each Learn with Me Program kit includes a Panda Express Year of the Rabbit DVD, factsheet, Jade Emperor’s interactive game and activity sheet, Lai See activity sheet, and 35 bookmarks with a free kid’s meal coupon.

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