In Dimen village in China, girls perform a folk song of a people known as the Dong. (Atesh Sonneborn/Smithsonian Institution)

Travel to two continents without leaving Washington as the Smithsonian kicks off its annual Folklife Festival on Thursday.

The festival, which began in 1967, showcases cultural traditions from across the world. This year, the focus is on China and Kenya. There’s a lot to see, but perhaps more important is the chance to talk to the people working at the festival and experience their cultures.

In China’s exhibit, craftspeople will demonstrate kite-making and turning bamboo into instruments and flower plaques. Two stages will feature musical groups, including a folk chorus performing what’s called ga lao, or “grand song.”

There will also be plenty of hands-on kids activities. Try making a lantern, learning a dance, filling a sachet with herbs or coloring a Chinese zodiac chart.

Kenya’s exhibit is called “Mambo Poa.” That’s a typical greeting and response in Swahili, one of the country’s two official languages. (The other is English.)

Girls at a school in Kenya, in Africa, play a traditional game. ( Danson Siminyu/Kenyan Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts)

You can see clay turned into pots for carrying water. Learn how discarded flip-flops have been turned into colorful artwork and jewelry. And a craftsman of traditional sailboats called dhows will demonstrate his carving technique.

The Tuchhezeni! tent (that means “Let’s play!” in Swahili) will feature games, language lessons and a daily fun run with a Kenyan marathoner.

You can get a taste of Chinese and Kenyan cuisines at the food stands. Mapo tofu with pork and a mango coconut dessert will be on the Chinese menu. Kenyan dishes will include samosas, goat stew and ugali, or cornmeal mash with spinach. These may not be familiar foods, but this cultural “journey” is about trying new things. So dig in!

Christina Barron

What: Smithsonian Folklife

Where: The Mall

When: June 25-29 and July 2-6. 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Some evening special events.

How much: Free!

For more information: A parent can call 202-636-1000 or go to