Although February 10 officially marks the end of the Year of Dragon and the beginning the Year of the Snake (a.k.a. lunar year 4711 on the Chinese calendar), San Francisco celebrates Chinese New Year with a near month-long series of events (February 2-24), culminating with the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Festival & Parade, the largest Chinese New Year parade outside of Asia.
On Saturday, February 23, the illuminated parade is expected to draw more than a million partiers, not to mention the snaps and pops of roughly 650,000 firecrackers. Decorated floats, lion dancers, Chinese acrobats, marching bands, costumed school children, and the stunning 268-foot-long Golden Dragon ("Gum Loong") will snake through the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood from the golden hours of sunset to the early sparkle of night, in what many consider a bucket-list event.
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To enjoy the best Chinese New Year, Karen Eng, spokesperson for the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, shares more about her city's celebrations and the holiday's traditions:
- The Chinese New Year Parade is such a beloved tradition in San Francisco. Can you share a bit of its history?
- The Chinese New Year Parade has been around for over 150 years, [since] during the Gold Rush, when San Francisco was known as Yerba Buena. Over 50,000 people from China had come to San Francisco to seek their fortune on the goldmines and on the railroad. By the 1860s, the Chinese were eager to share their culture with those who were unfamiliar with it. They chose to showcase their culture by using a favorite American tradition: the parade.
- Can you tell us more about the iconic Golden Dragon in the parade and its significance?
- The Golden Dragon -- "Gum Loong" -- is 268 ft. long. In China, the dragon is the symbol of the emperor, the son of heaven, and represents male vigor. The dragon is flamboyant, extroverted, elegant, imaginative, strong, decisive -- and is considered the flashiest and boldest member of the Chinese astrological family. They remain strong in the face of adversity and enter most battles unassisted.
- What does the Year of the Snake traditionally hold for everyone, or for those born in it?
- According to Chinese astrology, people take on the characteristics of the animal that rules the year of their birth. The venerable wisdom of the snake will make this a good year for commerce and industry. The Year of the Snake, however, is always unpredictable. Once the snake recoils to strike, nothing can stop it. Similarly, changes that occur during the snake's year can be sudden and devastating.
- What are common traditions for Chinese New Year?
- Traditionally, your homes should be cleaned, debts paid, haircuts [gotten], new clothes [bought] before New Year's Day... Bad luck will come if you do all these things on New Year's Day, as some believe you will sweep and cut your luck away. Fresh flowers, plants, and oranges [should be] purchased for the home.
- Do you have any tips for those celebrating Chinese New Year?
- Be happy and positive. Chinese New Year is equivalent to our Thanksgiving. It's a big deal. The winter is over, and spring is here, meaning new crops. Family is important. Most families have a dinner to close out the old year and a dinner a few days later to open up the new year. Then on New Year's Day, married people will pass out red envelopes with money to their children, families, and to unmarried people to buy candy or treats. In my day, we used to get 25 cents. Now it could be any amount from a dollar to twenty dollars in each red envelope.
- What are some Chinese sayings to wish others well for the new year?
- "Gung hay fat choy," or "gung hee fat toy" (depending on your dialect), means "best wishes and good fortune" or "may you be prosperous." The "gung hay" means "congratulations." "Sen nen fai lok!" means "Happy new year!"
America's Largest Chinese New Year Celebration
San Francisco ushers in the Year of the Snake, February 2-24