When it comes to Chinese New Year, nobody does it better than San Francisco.
Every year, the narrow streets of that city’s fabled Chinatown come alive with the ear-splitting roar of firecrackers, filling the air with the scent of gunpowder and littering the sidewalks with tattered red paper. While firecrackers are officially illegal in the city, the police have traditionally turned a blind eye to the practice of setting them off during this festive period.
Lion dancers hired by merchants and family associations prowl the streets to scare away evil spirits to the pulsating rhythm of Chinese cymbals, gongs, and drums.
The sidewalks are lined with fresh flowers and plants as well as foods, candies, and fruits – all symbols of a new beginning and a prosperous new year. Children are on their best behavior to make sure that they receive lots of red envelopes, with lucky money tucked inside that will be used to buy candied coconut and other deletable sweets.
Attractions include a flower market, a community fair, a Chinatown run, a mini parade, and a basketball jamboree. The festivities kick off on 6 February and run through the end of the month.
For nearly half a century, young women from throughout the United States have come to San Francisco to compete for prizes and scholarships in the annual Miss Chinatown USA Pageant. The winners serve as goodwill ambassadors for the Chinese community throughout the new year.
This year’s pageant will take place on Saturday 20 February at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. A Coronation Ball will take place the following Friday at the San Francisco Hilton & Towers.
But the real attraction is the annual Chinese New Year Parade, which will take place one week later on Saturday 27 February. With more than 100 units, it has been ranked as one of the world’s top 10 parades by the International Festivals and Events Association, attracting crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands, lining the streets to witness the thrilling spectacle.
One of the many things that makes San Francisco’s parade unique is that fully illuminated – and held at night! The procession includes lion dancers, giant walking puppets, acrobats, costumed stilt walkers, drum and dance corps, elaborate floats, elementary school students in costumes, and high school marching bands.
The highlight is the 250 foot long Golden Dragon, which is colourfully festooned with lights. Carried aloft by more than 100 martial artists, it snakes through the streets, bringing the parade to a dramatic close.
The Chinese New Year Parade was first held in the 1860’s. It was organized by the city’s Chinese community as a means of educating the larger community about its culture. It has been sponsored by the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau for roughly half a century.