When it comes to Chinese New Year Parades, nobody does it better than San Francisco, California. And nobody has done it longer. San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade dates back to the California Gold Rush.
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World’s First Chinese New Year Parade
The Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco dates back to the California Gold Rush, when the Chinese Community in San Francisco decided to stage a parade in order to share their culture with the non-Chinese community.
Actually, the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco takes place about the time of the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. In fact, the Lantern Festival traditionally marked the end of Chinese New Year.
There are beautiful floats, elaborate costumes, ferocious lions, exploding firecrackers , marching bands, and the newly crowned Miss Chinatown U.S.A. and her court.
So why was the first Chinese New Year Parade held in the United States rather than China? That’s an interesting story!
In fact, the first Chinese New Year Parade was held in San Francisco at the time of the California Gold Rush.
Because the Chinese faced discrimination at that time in San Francisco, leaders of the Chinese community decided to hold a parade – a very American type of celebration – in order to share their culture with the larger community.
According to tradition, a spectacular 268 foot long Golden Dragon – beautifully lit from within by hundreds of lights – ends the parade. Amazingly, the dragon is held aloft by a team of more than 100 men and women from a martial arts group.
While it is held at night, the Chinese New Year Parade draws hundreds of thousands of spectators as it winds its way through the streets of Downtown San Francisco.
Parades Grow in Popularity
After San Francisco, Los Angeles, California, has the world’s second longest running Chinese New Year’s Parade.
In addition, many other cities with large Chinese communities in the United States and Canada as well as Australia, Britain, and New Zealand have launched Chinese New Year parades or celebrations in recent years.
Asian cities are relative newcomers to the concept. Like San Francisco, Singapore holds its Chinese New Year Parade two weeks after Chinese New Year. It gets top marks for creativity and multiculturalism!
As with the parade in San Francisco, other ethnic groups also play a significant supporting role in Singapore’s Chinese New Year celebrations.
At the other end of the spectrum is Hong Kong, whose New Year Parade, which is held on Chinese New Year’s Day, is not only one of the earliest parades, it is surely also one of the most commercial.
In fact, many of the floats are more like three dimensional moving billboards, blatantly promoting their corporate sponsors.
While I can’t speak for other cities, I can assure you that this would be frowned upon in San Francisco. But, hey! This isn’t San Francisco. This is Hong Kong!
Best Chinese New Year Parades
Click on the city for more information on this year’s Chinese New Year Parade.
1. San Francisco – 167th Chinese New Year Parade, Saturday 8 February 2020, San Francisco, California. This is the granddaddy of Chinese New Year Parades. It dates back to the California Gold Rush!