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Chinese New Year Parade and Celebration in San Francisco

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.


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Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar—based 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.
Shopping for flowers in ChinatownIndividual birthdays were not considered as important as the New Year’s 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.
Chinese New Year street festivalEntire 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 Year’s time, similar to the way western children receive Christmas presents.

Chinese New Year in San Francisco

Chinese New Year street fair performanceAlthough 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 ParadeChinese New Year parade lotus float

Kids in tradition costumes at Chinese New Year paradeThe San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade—started in 1853 by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce as a way to educate the broader community about Chinese culture—is 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.
Kids wearing pony costumes for Year of the Horse2009 (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.
Lion Dancers in Chinese New Year ParadeFor the first 100+ years, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade was held inside the boundaries of Chinatown, mainly along Grant.
Miss Chinatown 2003By 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.
Princesses float in Chinese New Year ParadeSan 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.
Marching band in SF's Chinese New Year ParadeThe 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.
Stilt walkers in Chinese New Years ParadeThe sound and smell of hundreds of thousands of firecrackers exploding (to drive away evil spirits) adds to the excitement.
Martial Arts group in chinese New Years ParadeIf 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.)
Slideshow—all photos on this page

Previous: San Francisco’s Chinatown


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