Why (And How) You Should Celebrate Chinese New Year

Who wouldn’t be excited about another excuse to celebrate life? Regardless of what traditions you grew up with, we can all agree that learning about holidays from the around the world is a beautiful way to experience and appreciate each other’s cultural heritage. The Chinese New Year celebration in San Francisco, CA is a golden opportunity to experience something unique.

What’s it all about?

Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is an important traditional Chinese holiday that takes place on the first day of lunar year, falling between January 21st and February 20th. This year, that day lands on February 16th. The general festivities last for two weeks following the first day of the new year. Friends and families feast, make memories, and share hopes and dreams for the future. Red paper covers everything from lanterns and banners to gift wrappings and envelopes full of money symbolizing prosperity and good luck.  

In the United States, this colorful tradition has taken on a new form among the residents of San Francisco. Every year between January 20th and February 20th, the Golden City comes to life.

Why San Francisco?

In the mid 1800s, waves of Chinese immigrants came across the Pacific Ocean to find work and new opportunities on the West Coast of the United States, bringing their holidays and traditions with them. San Francisco was one of the most important ports on the West Coast and in many cases was the final destination for these long ocean voyages. To this day, San Francisco has one of the highest concentrations of Chinese-Americans in the United States.

In 1859, the Chinese immigrants combined traditions from their homeland with the American tradition of the parade to create the first ever Chinese New Year Parade in order to share their culture with their fellow San Franciscans. More than a hundred and fifty years later, this tradition continues to remain an important part of San Francisco’s identity. Bold colors, beautiful costumes, joyful dancing, and fireworks dazzle the senses as the parade winds through the city from Market Street to Chinatown. There are more than a hundred unique parade entries, but the highlight of the parade is always a 270 ft long dragon that requires more than a hundred people to carry with mesmerizing synchronicity and astonishing precision.

How can you celebrate?

If you’re in San Francisco, the parade will take place on February 24th, and spectators can purchase seats in bleachers or stake out a spot on the parade route. In addition to the parade, there are symphonies, basketball tournaments, fairs, and 5k and 10k runs for charity to enjoy.

But if you’re celebrating Chinese New Year from home, you don’t have to miss out! Spice up your winter— or, take this as an excuse to find something different to focus on than the looming day of love that monopolizes February! Now is a great time to get together with family and friends to eat traditional “lucky” New Year food like dumplings, spring rolls, “good fortune fruit” (mandarins), and babao fan (Eight Treasures Rice). Other fun rituals include giving red envelopes with money inside, lighting firecrackers, buying new clothes (not saying no to this one!), and decorating your home with Chinese lanterns, door couplets, and paper cuttings. 

Whatever you’re celebrating this season, don’t forget that spring is right around the corner, full of plenty of new opportunities to host celebrations, make merry, and spend time with the people in your life who matter most.