Chinese New Year is an official holiday throughout Greater China, which includes the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. It also enjoys official status in countries with significant Chinese communities, such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Chinese New Year – while not an official holiday – is also celebrated in cities with significant Chinese communities such as Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco in the United States; Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver in Canada; Melbourne and Sydney in Australia; and Birmingham and London in Great Britain.
With a Chinese community dating back to the California Gold Rush of 1849, San Francisco has been celebrating the Lunar New Year for nearly one and a half centuries. And nobody, perhaps, does it better.
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 prowl the streets, the sidewalks are lined with fresh flowers and food stalls, there is e a flower market, a community fair, a Chinatown run, a mini parade, a basketball jamboree, and the celebrated Miss Chinatown USA Pageant. The festivities kicked off on 6 February and will run through the end of the month.
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.
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.
Here’s a look at how three other cities are celebrating the Year of the Tiger
On 21 February, London’s Chinatown as well as Leicester and Trafalgar squares will come alive with a cacophony of firecrackers and fireworks, lion and dragon dancing, and food stalls serving regional Chinese cuisine. Tens of thousands of people are expected at the Chinese New Year’s Parade.
More than 100,000 people are expected at the Chinese New Year Twilight Parade, which will take place from 7.45 to 9.45 on 21 February. It will culminate with a fireworks display over Darling Harbour, starting at 10 pm.
Boasting the second largest Chinatown in North America, Vancouver is one of the few cities whose Chinese New Year Parade – called the Vancouver Chinatown Spring Festival Parade – actually takes place on New Year’s Day.
It took on special significance this year thanks to the city’s hosting of the Winter Olympics. But the Chinese men’s ice hockey team’s humiliating 12-1 loss to the United States on opening day clearly dampened the mood.
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: San Francisco’s fabled Chinatown is at the crossroads of the city’s two cable car lines
Photo Courtesy of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.