The San Francisco Chinese New Year celebration is the most famous and largest Spring Festival in the U.S.
One of the few remaining night illuminated parades, the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco began in the 1850's.
Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendarbased on the cycles of the moon.
Chinese New Year Celebration History
Probably the most important traditional Chinese celebration, also known as Spring Festival, the New Year was a time to say "Good by" to the Kitchen God, settle outstanding debts and celebrate everyone's birthday.
Individual birthdays were not considered as important as the New Years date, so everyone added a year to his age on the Seventh Day of the New Year.
The 15th day of the first month of the Lunar year was reserved for the Lantern Festival. Multicolored paper lanterns were made in the likeness of butterflies, dragons, birds, dragonflies, and many other animals, along with the more common red, spherical lanterns.
Entire streets were blocked off, with lanterns mounted above and to the sides, creating a hallway of lamps. Brilliantly-lit floats and mechanically driven light displays combined with dragon and lion dances, parades, and other festivities.
Flowers and fruit, particularly Tangerines, oranges and pomelos (large pear-shaped grapefruits), were traditionally used for decorating homes. Children and young adults were given money in Lai-See Envelopes at New Years time, similar to the way western children receive Christmas presents.
Chinese New Year in San Francisco
Although Chinese New Year celebrations in San Francisco's Chinatown last a month or more with street fairs, performances, pageants, parades and Lion and dragon dancers, events are planned for evenings and weekends unlike the traditional Chinese celebration where stores would close for a week and everyone would take time off work.
A Miss Chinatown Pageant and Coronation Ball, Flower Market Fair and Chinese New Year Run (10k, 5k, Run/Walk) are annual activities in addition to the well-known parade.
San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade
The San Francisco Chinese New Year Paradestarted in 1853 by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce as a way to educate the broader community about Chinese cultureis the oldest of its kind and the largest outside Asia.
Signs from the cyclical twelve animal Chinese Zodiac calendar serve as the theme for the parade.
2009 (Lunar Year 4706), was The Year of the Ox. 2010 is the Year of the Tiger followed in turn by the Year of the Rabbit (or Hare), Dragon, Serpent (or Snake), Horse, Ram (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig (or Boar) and Rat and then the cycle repeats.
For the first 100+ years, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade was held inside the boundaries of Chinatown, mainly along Grant.
By the 1970s, the starting point was moved to Market Street proceeding to Geary, Powell, Post and Kearny so that there would be room for the larger crowds of people who come to see the parade each year.
San Francisco's parade is a blend of typical American marching parades and the traditional Lantern Festival.
The lion and dragon dances are adopted from the Chinese celebration, but the beauty pageant, floats, drill teams and marching bands are all American.
The Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco typically lasts two and a half hours with the newly crowned Miss Chinatown U.S.A. and royal court floats, more elaborately decorated floats, costumed elementary school groups, high school and college drill teams, martial arts groups, Chinese acrobatics, stilt walkers and then a 201 foot long Golden Dragon to bring up the rear.
The sound and smell of hundreds of thousands of firecrackers exploding (to drive away evil spirits) adds to the excitement.
If you visit the city, Culinary Walking Tours are a great introduction to Chinatown and other San Francisco neighborhoods. Most San Francisco City Tours include Chinatown on their itinerary.
Gung Hay Fat Choy!
(Best wishes and Congratulations.
Have a prosperous and good year.)
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